Access A Ride Giving Rides To Empire City

Now every time I see a TV commercial for Empire City Casino @ Yonkers Raceway, my initial thought would be how much money is being wasted via Access-A-Ride trips to this gambling hot spot. I was absolutely floored & disgusted to read two reports about how Access-A-Ride vans were taking some passengers to the casino. Lets first start with the initial report which appeared on Dec 30th by Pete Donohue of the New York Daily News:

Next stop for the cash-strapped NYC Transit: the casino.

The agency’s budget-busting Access-A-Ride van and car service doesn’t just take disabled passengers to the doctor’s office, pharmacy or local supermarket.

Access-A-Ride regularly takes passengers from their door to the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway to play the ponies or the 5,300 slot machines, the Daily News has learned.

“We’re here all the time,” an Access-A-Ride driver said one recent afternoon after a woman got into the back seat of his sedan for a trip home after some holiday season gambling.

“Every day, we pick up and drop off passengers at the raceway,” another Access-A-Ride driver said before driving a wheelchair user home to Flushing, Queens, in an otherwise empty van.

The casino and raceway is a popular location. It ranks 17th among the 30 most-requested destinations for Access-A-Ride users. The vast majority are medical facilities, but the list also includes the Staten Island Mall and Kennedy Airport.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires mass transit operators provide alternate transportation to those unable to use subways or buses.

The law requires NYC Transit to provide service in the city and a short distance into Westchester and Nassau counties, where other Metropolitan Transportation Authority divisions also run some buses, transit officials said.

Access-A-Ride ridership and costs have been skyrocketing for years, and transit officials are looking to streamline operations to help close an MTA-wide budget gap of nearly $400 million dollars.

Still, NYC Transit can’t simply refuse to provide trips requested by registered users, spokesman Deirdre Parker said.

“The law is clear; we can’t prioritize trips and we do not ask what your purpose is,” Parker said. “It’s just like the bus and subway. We don’t ask where you’re going on the bus or subway. It’s public transportation.”

Click here for the complete report.

Now let’s take a look at a report from New Year’s Eve from Pete in which the feds confirmed the trips to Empire City:

NYC Transit began taking the disabled to Yonkers’ racino last year after the federal government said it had to cross into Westchester County, officials say.

For years, NYC Transit only provided trips to the disabled within the five boroughs.

The federal Transit Administration two years ago said the Americans with Disabilities Act required that Access-A-Ride take passengers just over the Bronx border into a swath of Westchester, MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.

The feds also said Access-A-Ride had to extend a short distance into Nassau County from Queens, NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said.

The Daily News reported yesterday that some gamblers were using Access-A-Ride to go to Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway.

The racino is the 17th most-popular destination for Access-A-Ride passengers.

Transit officials said the agency can’t reject trips based on the type of destination or purpose of travel.

Many of the most-popular destinations are medical offices or destinations, but the top 30 list also includes malls and Kennedy Airport.

Federal regulations don’t require services like Access-A-Ride to meet all travel needs of disabled residents, but to provide “the same level of service” provided by the bus and subway system, the FTA said.

Click here for the complete report.

I honestly don’t know if I should be more shocked or pissed off that money is being wasted on this nonsense. While I understand the need for the disabled to get around & why such laws as the “Americans With Disabilities Act” was created with their interests in mind, it does not change the fact that this nonsense needs to stop! I am 100% positive that when the laws of providing alternate transportation to those unable to use subways or buses were put in place, they did not mean for that to include leisure trips to the casino.

The Access-A-Ride program has been a sour spot for the beleaguered transit agency’s budget for years with it getting worse by the year. So when people call for them to not make cuts to this service, it will be a much harder fight when such fraud like this is running rampant.

While some might feel it is wrong to call these trips fraud, that is exactly what they are. Such programs like “Access-A-Ride” are not here to provide door-to-door service for every place the disabled want to go. For trips involving getting to doctors, shopping for essentials, etc…

I fully support the service. However for trips to casinos, I will never support it. The cost per ride to the transit agency is big enough as it is & that is for legitimate trips so imagine the blow when adding in such fraudulent trips like those to Empire City. I mean really, this ts the 17th most popular destination on their log! Anyone with a sense for what is right understands that this destination should not be anywhere in their trip logs!

I read many of the responses left to the articles & noticed some shared similar sentiment. However I also noticed some quick to defend these trips including one particular poster calling themselves “Leo Queen” who feels such trips are a good thing for stress relief from their painful lives. Here is what they had to say:

This article is so biased. I go to the hospital all the time for appointments and I see the lobby full of people waiting assess a ride. Many of them wait for hours, and what’s worse is that the drivers don’t come in to look for them. I have seen people in walkers and braces struggle to walk to the van, only to be told that the van is not for them. For all of you who think that this service should only be meant for going to the doctors and therapy. Have you given a second thought to those people’s lives? If the only time they go out was to a doctor’s appt or therapy – they’d be miserable. I know from experience. For the past 2 years – I’ve been going to doctors and therapy following car accidents and a stroke and it is stressful. Mental Health is a big part of recovery, so going to a casino once in a while can be a way to relieve stress. I don’t go myself, but with my elderly parents sometimes and have seen many people in wheelchairs that sit at one machine and play for pennies.

I understand the angle they are going with as it has some general validity behind it. However even with that in mind, this does not change the fact that these trips should not be made via “Access-A-Ride” services. There are millions of us in some sort of pain whether it be emotionally, physically, or spiritually, does that entitle us for door-to-door service to destinations that could help with relief? Obviously the answer is no.

For anyone who supports these trips, answer these questions for me & others who share my sentiment. If they are healthy enough to walk around in a casino all day, why are they not healthy enough to ride public transportation like everyone else? If they can afford to spend money gambling, why can’t they pay for cabs?

Seriously think about this for a second, you are too weak to ride public transportation but are strong enough to have fun gambling in a casino all day. If that is not a complete sham, then I don’t know what a sham really is.

Before I get the hate mail, understand that I am not saying all the A.A.R. trips are fraudulent or that the service should be scrapped. I am just saying that all unnecessary trips should be banned as that would be the right thing to do & I honestly know a case for anything less can’t be made. Let A.A.R. provide trips for the truly needy & to the places that are truly needed.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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I agree that people who are disabled need stress relief but these people are clearly abusing the sole purpose of the Access-A-Ride program. Many senior centers and/or community centers that serve the disabled have recreational activities and/or go on various trips using coach bus services.

Surely people who are not disabled put their shoes into this points. It hurts like hell that of which no one who is not physically or mentally able to tell regular transit. jealous people think that we use assess a ride because we want to. I thank God daily its there but when your not mobile you get other problems such as depression and taking a shopping trip a Broadway show a ride even to the casino’s makes you feel almost like everyone else. People have a habit of looking at something and blindingly not looking at the other side of it. Sure there are people who abuse systems and their always will be but if you have the correct documentation its not easy to get AAR. We get to work hour earlier and get home several hours later but I have not read anything about that because that is not Your Issue.

Thank you for the comments Dawn & Jackie. Let me first say to you Dawn that you bring up an excellent point about community & senior centers routinely offering recreational activity trips, especially to casinos.

Now Jackie, I am sorry but I am not falling for the spin you are offering. Such an opinion clearly focuses on an attempt to pull at the emotional feelings of people. As much as I understand this, I also have to look at the greater good of everyone & the financial health of the MTA here.

The MTA is a vital economic engine in how it brings millions to & from jobs, schools, etc… on a daily basis. They are in arguably the worst financial shape of their life & need to find ways they can help their cause (which is only part of the overall equation).

During these times, the need to tighten up financially is of paramount importance. The A-A-R program bleeds a ton of money from the agency yearly as it is.

The program was created to provide disabled individuals with mass transit to & from important functions. I am sorry but leisure trips to go gambling is not important. If they can walk around a casino, they can do so to take public transportation.

If they want to take leisure trips, find local centers or organizations that provide such trips year round instead of wasting time, energy, & money that could be better used elsewhere.

I’m sorry, but Pete Donohue and you are missing some facts. The ADA, which created paratransit, which is what Access-A-Ride is, says that rides cannot be restricted according to purpose. Do people taking the bus or subway have to just take them to medical appointments? Also, Donohue did not do his homework. Although some people go to the Casino for entertainment, other people go there because it is a transfer point to Westchester’s paratransit or to be picked up by relatives or friends or to go to a medical appointment across the way.

If the subway were accessible, more people would be able to use it and fewer people would have to take Access-A-Ride. Simple things like having benches at bus stops would help, too.

The bus cuts are going to impact people with disabilities terribly.

The MTA told people in Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bay Ridge to take the subway instead of the X27 and X28 buses which they are eliminating on the weekends. But they do not have any accessible stations here. We have no choice but to take Access-A-Ride more than ever on the weekends.

There are many reasons the AAR program has grown. The population is aging. It is almost inevitable that as we age, we become disabled. No matter how stringent the MTA is, AAR will continue to grow because of the bus cuts, lack of accessible subways, and the aging population, and the MTA knows it. The answer is to switch to smaller vehicles like the MV-1 which is coming out later this year instead of the big vans and to use taxis and car services for most of the trips with a smart card. That would require much less bureaucracy, too.

People are working on solutions instead of blaming people with disabilities for needing and wanting to have a full life.

Hello Jean,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. I am in no way supporting cuts to legitimately used Access-A-Ride services. However the investigations did show that the rides were by those choosing to use the service to go to the casino. The program was not created for people to take advantage of & that is exactly what they are doing when they use it to go have fun at a casino.

No one is asking them not to have a life. We are just asking for them to not have to do it through illegitimate means. Why is it fair for them to milk the system for free rides & not non-disabled individuals? The truth is, it is not fair. The MTA needs to find legitimate ways to cut back on costs & waste. Trips to casinos via A-A-R are just that, a complete waste. There are other means for disabled riders to reach such destinations.

[…] When the service does make the news, it is usually in an unflattering light such as when it was exposed that the service was being used for trips to Empire […]

As an Access-A-Ride,I can tell you of the importance and necessity of the occasional trip to Empire City, is important for the retention of sanity. Just the sense of inclusion in the society you’re at, although it may not be the most acceptable of places(to some people) is important. We must remember this is public transdportation, where noone passes judgement.

Should the disabled not be entitled to entertainment?

Hello Douglas,

As I stated, I am not against the elderly or disabled having access to entertainment. However access to it should not be on the taxpayers or MTA’s watch.

The MTA’s fiscal woes are bad enough as it is & to see the service being misused for such purposes is just wrong. The service was not created to give riders for the elderly or disabled to casinos.

I think it is disgusting that people use access-a-ride to take them into the city so they can see a play, to take them to the movies, etc. I know someone that can drive, is perfectly capable of taking public transportation. However, she uses access-a-ride so that she gets door-to-door service. Whose paying for these services? We are. Why should we have to pay poor to go into the city, etc., and they pay only $2.50. No wonder our city is broke as well as the MTA. Let them check where people are going, as well as showing proof. Doctors, hospitals, any medical, is fine. Give someone a job to check to see where people are going using access-a-ride. It will save the city millions of dollars, and at the same time give people a job!!!

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