ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — A small step but that has a large impact on the New York disabilities community has just passed its first hurdle.
The New York State Senate moved Senate Bill S5092, also known as the paratransit bill, out of the transportation committee and into the financial committee, Tuesday afternoon.
We hear from the disability community about their excitement on what could possibly be a game changer those who use paratransit.
"Most people with disabilities if they're on a benefit check, can't afford to own a vehicle or sometimes to pay taxi cab or transportation company; Uber and Lyft rates,” Western New York Independent Living chief policy officer, Todd Vaarwerk said. "Because the federal law says, if the state has a more stringent standard, then they must abide by the more stringent standard. Advocating to change the ADA is a national issue. Very hard for a local advocate to do. However, to change the state standard, to make it higher than the federal standard-- now, that's possible."
For eight years, S5092 has sat dormant in the New York Senate transportation committee.
"We have to advocate for transportation systems for everyone, regardless of party line or irrespective of district,” New York State Senator Tim Kennedy stated during the committee meeting.
"Mickey got that started 8 years ago. That's how long it's been in transportation. Now, I'm excited and nervous that the bill came out of transportation,” Erie County disabilities advocate, Stephanie Speaker said. “It hasn't come out of the assembly transportation yet."
If and when the bill is passed, it will be named after Stephanie Speaker, a longtime advocate for the bill who has been spearheading it when Erie County clerk Michael Kearns worked in the New York State Assembly.
"Paratransit is an important part of people's lives. It's not only for people with disabilities, it's for veterans and seniors,” Speaker said.
Kearns added, “Eighty-percent of our disability community is unemployed or cannot find work not because they're not qualified, but because they can't get to work, got to school. So, it's a fundamental right and this is the first step."
The current paratransit policy in the state does curb to curb service for people whose disabilities prevent them from using regular buses, to go anywhere within 3 quarters of a mile of a bus stop, or any area surrounded by commuter routes.
The bill would extend the routes to three miles.
"So within the City of Buffalo, everywhere inside the City of Buffalo is covered, but once you start going into the suburbs where a route might go out, but it might not surround the entire area, then we need start worrying about the three quarters of a mile from a bust stop." Vaarwerk said, "It's a game changer. It's the thing that keeps people in the community. Next to affordable housing, transportation is the number one barrier to independence. If you can't get to where you need to go, you're not going to get to do the things you need to do. If you can't do the things you need to do, 9 times out of 10, you're going to end up somewhere, where you don't want to be; a hospital, a nursing home."
7ABC reached out to Sen. Kennedy. He released this statement:
"This bill has been a priority, not only of mine as the bill sponsor, but of leaders like Stephanie Speaker, whose outstanding advocacy has fueled our efforts to move this bill forward. That strong commitment is reflected in the fact that this bill was advanced in the first meeting of the Transportation Committee this legislative session. We remain dedicated to getting this bill to the floor, to ensure people with disabilities have increased accessibility to transportation services that they deserve."
The must pass in both the senate and assembly committees, before heading to the governor's desk for signing.