Vehicles transporting people with disabilities will be exempt from congestion...

Vehicles transporting people with disabilities will be exempt from congestion pricing, as will emergency vehicles, transit buses and certain specialized government vehicles, like garbage trucks or snow plows. Credit: Ed Quinn

The MTA’s plan for exempting people with disabilities from its forthcoming congestion pricing program could be overly burdensome and restrictive, including by requiring qualified users to always travel in the same vehicle to avoid paying the new tolls, Long Island disability advocates said Tuesday.

A day after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rolled out the details of its disability exemption plan, Nassau and Suffolk residents reacted with both appreciation that they would not have to pay the congestion pricing tolls, and criticism for how they will be required to go into the city to register for the program, and be restricted to one vehicle.

“If the person is eligible, the person is eligible, no matter what vehicle they use,” said Wantagh resident and disability rights advocate Gina Barbara, who uses a wheelchair. “There’s so much protocol and criteria now on the backs of people with disabilities, now is really not the time to start throwing more on our plates.”

On Monday, MTA officials explained that people with disabilities looking to get an exemption would have to be approved for an “Individual Disability Exemption Plan,” or “IDEP.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The MTA detailed its plan to exempt people with disabilities from its forthcoming congestion pricing tolls in Manhattan.

  • The plan will require applicants to be screened at a New York City assessment center, unless they are already registered for the MTA's Access-a-Ride program.

  • Some disability rights advocates criticized the plan for being overly burdensome and restrictive, including by requiring qualified users to always travel in the same vehicle to avoid paying the new tolls.

While the 170,000 New York City residents already registered in the MTA’s Access-a-Ride program would be automatically qualified, others would have to visit an “assessment center” in one of the city’s five boroughs to register, MTA chief accessible Quemuel Arroyo said at a meeting of the transit authority Monday.

“If they are eligible, they will get one vehicle . . . for the exemption,” said Arroyo, who called it "a very fair program."

The MTA plans to begin signing up users for the program around 60 days before the implementation of congestion pricing. The MTA is aiming to enact the new tolls in June, but has said the plan could be delayed by pending lawsuits.

The MTA’s Central Business District Tolling Program will charge most vehicles $15 for driving below 60th Street in Manhattan. Vehicles transporting people with disabilities will be exempt, as will emergency vehicles, like police cars or ambulances; transit buses; and certain specialized government vehicles, like garbage trucks or snow plows.

Barbara said she expects many Long Islanders with disabilities either won’t know about the IDEP plan, or will choose against traveling to one of the assessment offices to apply.

Marilyn Tucci, outreach coordinator for the Suffolk Independent Living Organization, suggested that the MTA issue special E-ZPass transponders that qualifying users can take with them in any vehicle they use.

“What if you’re in somebody else’s car? . . . Say, I go into the city with my friend in her car. I’m disabled, but they don’t know I’m disabled,” said Tucci, who also noted that exempting a vehicle based only on its plate could also result in people without disabilities fraudulently avoiding tolls. “People are going to try to do that. That’s the sad part.”

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said the transit authority is "committed to enforcing all types of fraud related to toll evasion," including, "misrepresentation of identity."

In addition to Access-a-Ride’s user rolls, the transit authority is looking to determine "whether any other existing programs can be used to provide similar qualifying credentials,” MTA officials said in a statement.

Wheelchair user and disability rights advocate Emily Ladau, 32, who lives in New Jersey and frequently visits the Babylon home of her mother — also a wheelchair user — said she was initially concerned over the MTA’s congestion pricing plan, especially because the transit is system is not fully accessible.

“I was definitely concerned about the significant expenses my family would incur to get back and forth for visits, appointments, and other needs via car since public transit poses so many accessibility issues,” Ladau, 32, said in an email. “The IDEP is hopefully going to be a welcome relief to level the field for disabled people who have to get where they need to go in a safe, accessible way."

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