Over the past eight years, Stephanie Speaker has fought harder than anyone to expand transportation services for people with disabilities throughout New York State.
The Depew resident, who suffers from epilepsy and asthma and describes herself as mentally challenged, pushed, pushed and coaxed much of the Western New York delegation from the Legislative Assembly of the state to require agencies like the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to provide paratransit services to these customers within a three-mile radius. of a bus route – significantly longer than the current 3/4 mile stipulation.
But as the state’s April 1 budget deadline approaches, she and other disability advocates could face another year without success. Despite broad support, the bill faces uncertainty this year. He was pushed through the Senate by Transportation Committee Chairman Timothy M. Kennedy of Buffalo, but seemed bogged down in the Assembly.
Still, it could pass or emerge as a compromise.
“I’ve been working on it for eight years when we launched it in 2014, and we can’t allow it not to pass because it would be nine years,” the president said Tuesday, adding that the bill will help prevent people with disabilities from “being stuck at home”.
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Democrat Kennedy credits the president and others with lobbying enough to get him past his transportation committee and into the main Senate finance committee.
“We remain committed to bringing this to the Senate because we strongly believe in improving accessibility to transportation services and opportunities within the disability community,” he said.
Democrat Phil Steck of Albany County, who is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly, says its need stems from national transportation policy that undermines the original intent of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
“As political leaders, we must take into consideration the needs of people with disabilities,” reads his bill. “Because many people with disabilities lack the ability to drive cars, lack of access to other modes of transportation disproportionately harms them.”
Steck said Tuesday his original bill proposed service five miles from the nearest bus line, while Kennedy’s Senate version suggested 1.5 miles. They compromised on three miles. But he says that even though Kennedy’s bill allocates $20 million for the extended service, his version notes the need to set a cost.
“The difficulty is that no one knows how much it will cost statewide,” Steck said. “We may have to do a pilot program to determine that, and I would be willing to have it done in Buffalo.
The bill won’t budge until we have a realistic ability to measure the cost, and we could do that if we launch a pilot program,” he added, while noting the possibility of a separate bill after the budget is passed.
Meanwhile, Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Magnarelli of Syracuse said the bill in its current form remains stalled because it is priceless.
‘I won’t do anything with the Steck Bill today, and without the money my House colleague’s Bill doesn’t make much sense,’ the MP said, ‘but it does part of the ongoing budgetary discussions at the moment”.
Democrat Magnarelli added that he would not object to including the concept in the budget and that compromises in money or in a pilot program are possible.
“Now I think we’re all going to try to move the ball up the pitch,” he said.
Although expanding paratransit service areas will cost money, the NFTA says it has no objection.
“We are very supportive of anything that will add to the mobility of the disabled community,” authority spokeswoman Helen Tederous said, adding that she will also seek “more clarity in the language” of any proposed legislation.
She explained that after meeting the requirements, paratransit commuters pay $4 for a ride in 85 specially equipped vans for approved activities like doctor’s appointments or grocery shopping. The authority’s PAL (Paratransit Access Line) service registered 13,827 trips in January and 15,708 in February. She said the NFTA is happy to participate in anything that improves the service.
“We will work on solutions,” Tederous said. “We just want to be sure that we are able to serve this population well and that the funding is sustainable.”
The president noted that her efforts began with the help of Michael P. Kearns, the former Buffalo assemblyman who is now Erie County Clerk. He said this week that many people with disabilities can work but often have problems “getting around”.
“She does everything she has to do as a defender,” Kearns said of Speaker. “The public needs to know how important this is.”