NEW YORK—Under a new program that started this month, paratransit riders—including those in wheelchairs and those not in wheelchairs—have the option of getting free MetroCards for some of their trips.
The result will save almost $31 million this year, projects the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which manages the paratransit system.
Before the new program, paratransit riders could call for a car service, although some riders have said that this takes too long, thus hindering their ability to hold a steady job and keep appointments. The program also asks the riders to register one or two days before their trips, whenever possible.
The free MetroCards, which will be distributed to more than 170,000 people over the next year-and-a-half, can be used for up to four free trips on the Staten Island Railway, the subway system, or on local buses. Officials hope that riders shift from the dispatch system to buses or subways through the program.
Typical rides through the Access-A-Ride program now cost the same as a MetroCard swipe at $2.50 for any number of rides more than one.
Another $30.5 million in savings is projected for this year through a voucher initiative started in 2010, which lets paratransit riders take taxis or livery cabs instead of the regular paratransit vehicles, MTA officials told members of City Council Tuesday.
The money is saved because regular rides through the Access-A-Ride program cost the MTA on average $58, while the voucher rides only cost $30 on average.
Most of the paratransit users are not people in wheelchairs, according to the MTA. The agency administers the program for the city government, which reimburses the MTA at 33 percent of the net operating expenses, minus fare revenues and urban tax proceeds.
Update: In an email, MTA spokesperson Dierdre Parker said that the agency expects a shift of 600,000 trips to the subways and buses in 2013 from the Access-a-Ride through the free MetroCards.
In 2012, there were 6.7 million Access-a-Ride trips.