LEGISLATURE PASSES BILL TO ESTABLISH SELECTION CRITERIA FOR MTA SUBWAY ACCESSIBILITY IMPROVEMENTS
The fight for subway accessibility has taken one more step forward with the passage of legislation from State Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz through both chambers this week. The legislation, A8127/S6430, would establish selection criteria for the MTA to use when evaluating which subway stations to prioritize for accessibility improvements.
Under the Fast Forward plan proposed by former NYCT President Andy Byford, the MTA had agreed to make accessibility improvements at 50 stations as part of the 2020-2024 MTA Capital Plan. An economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 has cast doubt on whether the MTA will still go forward with improvements at all 50 stations as they work to bring ADA compliance to all 472 subway stations citywide. Currently, the less than one-quarter of subway stations are fully compliant with ADA requirements.
The bill requires the MTA to fully develop criteria to determine how to best prioritize subway stations for accessibility improvement and to make both the methodology and the finalized criteria publicly available. The minimum selection criteria established by the bill are: citywide geographic coverage, transit transfer options, annual ridership volume, census tract data for senior and disabled populations and percentage of those populations in poverty, residential density of surrounding neighborhoods, and proximity to medical centers, schools, parks, business districts, cultural hubs, and senior centers.
The legislative pair views this bill as a first step towards full subway accessibility throughout the MTA system. This bill includes one element of a comprehensive subway accessibility bill that was unveiled in 2019. In addition to selection criteria, Assemblyman Dinowitz and State Senator Gounardes are working alongside advocates to require the MTA to include accessibility improvements during station closures or renovations longer than six months as well as the codification of accessibility goals established in Fast Forward.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D - Bronx) said: “The fight for progress is long and arduous, but I am very proud that we have taken one step closer to a fully accessible subway system. It is imperative that the MTA does not just pick subway stations that are easy or convenient in order to hit their target numbers, but instead that they pick stations which will have the biggest benefit for riders with disabilities and other mobility limitations. I am grateful to the hard work of so many advocates who have been fighting this fight for many years, and I look forward to continuing our push for full subway accessibility alongside them and State Senator Gounardes.”
State Senator Andrew Gounardes (D - Brooklyn) said: “We have a long way to go to make our MTA accessible but this is a step forward. Criteria for determining which stations will be made accessible is a hallmark of good governance and makes concrete action more likely. New Yorkers with disabilities cannot wait to have equal access to their public transportation network. Holding the MTA accountable for accessibility is more important than ever because of the current budget gaps. The MTA needs to prioritize, and it must prioritize its riders first.”
LEGISLATURE PASSES NEW CONSUMER PROTECTION TO LIMIT AUTO-RENEWAL CONTRACTS
Consumers are one step closer to having an easier time escaping from predatory promotional deals and notoriously difficult-to-cancel gym memberships with the passage of legislation through the Assembly this week. The legislation (A3173/S1475) was shepherded through the State Senate by State Senator Brad Hoylman in February and then the baton was picked up by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz in July. It is now waiting to be delivered to the Governor for his approval.
The legislation would require businesses making automatic renewal or continuous service offers to clearly present the terms of the agreement and would prohibit businesses from charging consumers without their affirmative consent.
Furthermore, and of acute interest to people who have experienced the immense difficulty of cancelling a gym membership, the legislation also mandates that consumers are able to terminate an automatic renewal or continuous service agreement online if that is how they originally signed up. Regardless of how the agreement was entered, all businesses would have to provide a cost-effective, timely, and easy-to-use mechanism for cancellation such as a toll-free telephone number or e-mail address.
The bill also includes requirements that any “free” giveaways (goods wares, merchandise, or products sent to a consumer) be considered an unconditional gift with no obligation whatsoever to the consumer, unless the business has obtained the customer’s affirmative consent to enter into an automatic renewal or continuous service agreement.
The Attorney General of New York State would be empowered to seek an injunction for violations and would allow the court to impose civil penalties for violations that were intentional and did not result from a bona fide error.
If signed, New York would join states such as California, Oregon, and Virginia in having comprehensive automatic renewal and continuous service laws. At least 25 states have some form of regulation of this type of contract.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D - Bronx) said: “As many of us know, it is nearly impossible to escape from some automatic renewal contracts such as gym memberships or predatory bait-and-switch offers. Far too often, consumers are left feeling powerless and taken advantage of, but by establishing the affirmative consent standard in automatic renewal contracts we are restoring power back to the people who worked hard for their money. This legislation makes clear that the consumer has control of how they spend their own money, not the business. Thank you to State Senator Hoylman for his partnership on this legislation, and I urge the Governor to sign this bill into law when it reaches his desk.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman (D - Manhattan) said: “Exercising in the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult enough – New Yorkers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops simply to quit their gym. Too many gyms, subscription boxes and other companies use misleading offers and promotions to lock unwitting customers into long-term contracts that are ridiculously difficult to get out of. I’m grateful to Leader Andrea-Stewart Cousins, Speaker Carl Heastie, and my Assembly partner Jeffrey Dinowitz for supporting this strong consumer protection legislation that will save New Yorkers money.”