NJ Transit Tackles Accessibility—Not a Success

Accessibility—something important to all of us. Some, temporarily able-bodied, need not concern themselves with it on a daily basis, able to simply take for granted that their chosen mode of transportation will not present barriers to free travel.

Any agency providing public service, however, must take into account the various barriers that people might find in attempting to use their services. For transit, some of the obvious concerns are good signage, audio announcements for those with vision-related issues, staircases vs elevators for those using wheelchairs or scooters (and lifts for such devices on buses, as well as bridge plates for train platforms—which need high-level platforms), digital material easy to read via screen readers (PDFs are notoriously difficult for screen readers).

On June 14, NJ Transit held an Accessibility Forum for riders. This mostly-online event (Microsoft Teams was used in Webinar, rather than Meeting, format) started with a public comment period—and instantly, the irony was obvious: the meeting was inaccessible! Speakers were called on to speak, but unable to open their microphones. This was not one or two tech novices with problems, or people with disabilities finding accessibility problems in the forum itself. No, this was the majority of the public speakers, folks who have been on digital platforms throughout the pandemic, getting a message that “only panelists can unmute”.

An agency as large and complex as NJ Transit definitely knows how to run MS Teams meetings—in fact, the Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee (SCDRTAC) does that monthly, run by NJ Transit staff—but somehow this forum was mishandled, and a large number of attendees were frustrated. Some managed to testify only by pasting their remarks into the chat feature to be read aloud by a staff person or simply collected for the record. Once this embarrassment was over, a large number of presenters discussed accessibility arrangements for various modes of NJ Transit transportation, from new software programs to equipment, and a lot of good information was shared. The closing portion was public Q&A, limited to the information just presented, which some found a frustrating limitation.

There is a second forum planned for the Fall, so watch the NJ Transit and Lackawanna Coalition Web sites, and the Railgram, to stay informed.

Hearings on N.Y.C. Congestion Pricing

Congestion-pricing hearings are being planned from midSeptember to midOctober, all virtual: 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), New York State Department of Transportation (NYS DOT) and New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) today announced they will hold 13 public meetings between Thursday, Sept. 23, and Wednesday, Oct. 13, on the proposed Central Business District Tolling Program (CBDTP), also known as congestion pricing. The meetings, which will all be held virtually, will allow the public in a 28-county region in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey to learn more about the initiative and offer comments.

There is a Web site for information on the project.  The 13 hearings are broken down by region, with 3 specifically devoted to environmental-justice (EJ) issues.  New Jersey’s dates are September 24, 10 a.m. to 12 noon; October 4, 6 to 8 p.m.; and October 12, 6 to 8 p.m. (EJ).

There are also 2 new phone lines. The first, (646) 252-7440, would allow the public to leave comments or questions about the proposed program. The second, (646) 252-6777, allows the public to hear a brief description of the project, to register to speak at the public meetings, or request in advance language or American Sign Language services, or request language at least five days in advance of each meeting. American Sign Language services and CART Captioning will be provided for all meetings.

NJTPA Hosts Open House, Seeks Comments

On July 27th from 4 to 7 p.m., the New Jersey Transportation Planning Association (NJTPA) will hold a virtual open-house meeting: drop in any time to see an introductory presentation, then join staffed break-out rooms to ask questions and share your thoughts on NJTPA’s Plan 2050 (https://njtpa-plan-2050-njtpa.hub.arcgis.com). The plan includes the long-range Plan 2050 as well as draft plans for the periods 2022–2025 and 2022–2031. In addition, there is a draft Air Quality Conformity Determination. In addition to its open house, the agency is taking written comment through August 4th at Plan2050@njtpa.org. Our first comment? Do better than so many government agencies and actually allow for reflection time after their presentation before the public-comment period closes—we’d like the NJTPA to accept comments until late August.