PCAC considers MTA’s reduced fare provisions


At the 2012 September quarterly meeting, the PCAC agreed to form a committee and discuss the eligibility for reduced fares. The MTA and its operating agencies have, over time, moved from a system where each agency establishes eligibility for reduced fares and issues a card conferring reduced fare status to its riders to a system where reduced fare eligibility is established through the riders obtaining an MTA Reduced-Fare MetroCard.  Currently, the Reduced-Fare MetroCard functions as the reduced fare card for the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, as well as NYC Transit, Bee Line Bus, NICE Bus, and the Roosevelt Island Tram. One consequence of this change has been that persons who were previously eligible for commuter rail reduced fares on account of certain disabilities, including epilepsy, are not eligible under the more limited standard of eligibility used for the Reduced-Fare MetroCard.

MTA Reduced Fare Eligibility
The qualifications for receiving an MTA Reduced-Fare MetroCard are related to federal transit law and regulation, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as New York State law.  Currently, the only conditions that establish eligibility for a Reduced-Fare MetroCard are:
• receiving Medicare benefits for any reason other than age
• serious mental illness (SMI) and receiving Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) benefits
• blindness
• hearing impairment
• ambulatory disability
• loss of both hands
• mental retardation and/or other organic mental capacity impairment

Application materials for the Reduced-Fare MetroCard clearly state (in bold type) that:
If you do not have one of these disabilities, you are not eligible for the Reduced-Fare MetroCard Program. This provision excludes persons with epilepsy from the reduced fare program, even though they are often legally prohibited from operating a motor vehicle.

Reduced Fare Eligibility at Other Transit Agencies
PCAC examined the reduced fare eligibility policies of approximately thirty transit agencies around the nation.  Most of these agencies consider epilepsy a condition that establishes reduced-fare eligibility.  There are some differences in the framing of these eligibility standards, and there are also some notable exceptions of agencies who enforce eligibility standards that are similar in result to those used by the MTA.

The Exceptions
Several agencies do not go beyond the definition of a handicapped person found in federal transit regulations.  By using this definition, eligibility is extended to only “those individuals who, by reason of illness, injury, age, congenital malfunction, or other permanent or temporary incapacity or disability, including those who are nonambulatory wheelchair-bound and those with semi-ambulatory capabilities, are unable without special facilities or special planning or design to utilize mass transportation facilities and services as effectively as persons who are not so affected.”  (49 CFR 609.3)  These agencies include the City of Detroit and the Utah (Salt Lake) Transit Authority.

Two other major systems, the Regional Transportation Authority of Northeastern Illinois (the parent organization of the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace Suburban Bus) and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA, Philadelphia’s main transit provider) establish eligibility through functional criteria related to riding transit that would appear to exclude persons with all but severe cases of epilepsy from reduced fare eligibility.

The Mainstream
The reduced fare policies of most agencies that were examined have provisions where epilepsy establishes eligibility for reduced fares.  In some cases, such as Rockland County, NY or Fort Wayne, Indiana, a person with epilepsy is unconditionally eligible, but in most cases, eligibility is restricted by specifying a threshold number of seizures within a given period of time as a criterion for eligibility.  This ranges from at least one episode per month to a failure to be seizure free for six consecutive months.

Another approach is to tie eligibility to the ability to drive safely or lawfully, which is the case with the Boston (MBTA) and Bakersfield, CA systems.  Related to these provisions are other provisions that establish eligibility based on restrictions on “major life activities” that result from an individual’s condition.  These provisions are derived from the Americans With Disabilities Act and are less helpful, as courts have generally ruled that driving in itself is not a major life activity, although inability to drive could in particular cases prevent one from engaging in another major life activity such as working.    A fairly common and somewhat more broad provision, which is used by New Jersey Transit as well as several midwestern and southwestern transit systems, provides that an individual is eligible when “private personal transportation poses an unreasonable difficulty or danger.” Presumably, this would incorporate those situations where an individual is precluded from driving as a result of a disability.

Other Issues
If members support a revision to the MTA’s reduced fare eligibility standards there remain issues of whether this revision should be limited to adding epilepsy to the eligibility criteria, broadened to include other disabilities that limit the ability to drive, or taken as the occasion to overhaul the reduced fare eligibility standards to make them more general and linked to abilities.  There are administrative and cost issues that should be considered as well.