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Transportation Dept. Opens Program to Make Public Transit Accessible

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Transportation opened a program on Tuesday that enables cities to use for federal funding to make public transit stations more accessible to disabled people, moving on the anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act to offer access to $1.75 billion to update stations that don’t comply with the law.

This system, approved as a part of the infrastructure law enacted last 12 months, would address a persistent problem in Recent York and other major cities across the nation that built transit systems long before the A.D.A. was signed into law. The 1990 statute protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in public transportation and mandates that they’ve equal access to transit systems, but many stations constructed before it existed are largely inaccessible to those that use wheelchairs or have limited mobility.

The federal money, $343 million of which might be available this 12 months, will allow recipient cities to renovate subway stations so individuals who need an elevator, ramp or visual and audible aids can access rail systems.

“It’s one thing to push transit agencies to turn out to be compliant; it’s one other to fund them and help them actually get done,” Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, said in an interview to advertise the beginning of the transit program.

Mr. Buttigieg said there have been about 900 stations across the country that weren’t A.D.A. compliant. The department hurried to launch this system amid growing concern about inflation, which has raised the fee of renovation projects substantially, he said, but has yet to set a date for when the primary round of funding might be disbursed.

The necessity is especially great in Recent York, which has probably the most noncompliant stations within the country, and where only a little bit greater than 1 / 4 of stations comply with the law. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently vowed to make most of its subways accessible by 2055 as a part of a settlement agreement in two class-action lawsuits.

“At a time when public transit is depressed compared with prepandemic levels, we should be as inclusive as possible,” said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for Riders Alliance, a Recent York City-based transportation accessibility organization.

Other cities including Boston and Chicago face similar problems, based on the Department of Transportation.

Greater than 25 million Americans had a travel-limiting disability, and three.6 million didn’t leave their homes due to them in 2018, based on data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The Federal Transit Administration said 1 / 4 of the nation’s rail stations remain inaccessible as of 2020, a Transportation Department representative said.

“I’m just sick and bored with hearing stories of friends or constituents unable to make use of public transit because they’ve the nerve to get around in a wheelchair,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, a double amputee and the primary disabled woman elected to Congress, who led the trouble to incorporate this system within the infrastructure measure.

This system, which can ultimately grant a complete of $1.75 billion over the following five years, is opening at a time when transit agencies have been battered by drops in revenue from the pandemic. It’s a small piece of the infrastructure law, which administration officials, economists and business groups have called probably the most significant step in a generation toward upgrading critical infrastructure systems in the USA.

Mitch Landrieu, a senior adviser to President Biden who’s leading the implementation of the infrastructure law, said this system was in step with the administration’s major priority in rolling out its funding: equity.

“Accessibility should never be a barrier,” Mr. Landrieu said. “The impact of accessibility improvements goes beyond individuals with disabilities since it also makes stations higher for folks with strollers.”

When the A.D.A. was enacted 32 years ago, only 6 percent of Chicago’s rail stations were compliant. Now, about 70 percent of its stations have been updated, but the rest face technical and financial challenges, the Chicago Transit Authority said in an announcement.

“Some were never designed to carry an elevator or other accessibility structure. Others are situated on either small pieces of land or within the median of expressways,” the statement read. “Rehabbing those stations takes considerable money and time.”

In Philadelphia, renovating older stations will cost roughly $4 billion, based on Kelly Greene, a spokeswoman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. SEPTA has created a schedule for making its stations A.D.A. accessible, which incorporates projects that might be funded by the brand new program.

Jinny Kim, the director of the Disability Rights Program at Legal Aid, said this system would help prioritize accessibility at the same time as transit systems have handled lower rider fares throughout the pandemic.

“Individuals with disabilities can proceed to ride transit because they do depend upon it,” she said. “When public transit systems are inaccessible, they only can’t access society.”

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