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Flushing 86-yr-old wins fight vs. MTA

Toby Rosen showed this week that while her legs may not be what they used to be, she still has the vigor to fight for what she deserves.

After a six-month-long fight, the 86-year-old Flushing grandmother won her appeal to regain a seat in the city's Access-A-Ride program last week.

"I've had people who I haven't heard from in years calling me about this," Rosen said.

Rosen, who has been using the city's van service for the disabled for six years, was one of more than 70,000 elderly and disabled New York City residents who were forced to reapply to the city's program after changes to the certification process were enacted last year.

Under the new rules effective last March, the elderly and infirm must appear in person to answer questions and be examined and undergo tests to determine whether they are disabled enough to be eligible for the car service.

Thomas Charles, who heads the Access-A-Ride division of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has denied the new rules are based on suspicion and or mistrust. He said they are for the purpose of providing each applicant with an equal hearing.

Charles said last year before the City Council that the new rules were intended to "accomplish two primary requirements. The first is that we can now ensure that all applicants receive the same fair, equitable and thorough evaluation of their disability for eligibility for paratransit service. The second is that we can achieve compliance with the federal requirement to issue determinations of eligibility within 21 days of the submission of a complete application."

Access-A-Ride, administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, provides personalized van service to disabled and elderly residents of the five boroughs who cannot use public transportation because of physical limitations or ailments.

Rosen took a recertification test, which included walking up a mock set of bus stairs, in November and received a letter from the MTA last month rejecting her application. Rosen said the letter said that the MTA found no reason Rosen, who has been forced to walk with a cane since she was 80, could not use regular public transportation.

"They make you feel so lowly," she said.

Patricia Dolan, director of the Queens Community Home, said Rosen's situation mirrors hundreds of others in the city, many of whom cannot or do not speak up for themselves.

"What happened to this lady is not a surprise," Dolan said. "It's not even a shock anymore, but it's shameful that the transit authority would treat people like this."

City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) who helped Rosen file and win her appeal with the MTA last week, said while he understands that the transit agency has financial problems, ending service to people that need it is not the answer.

"We recognized that the MTA needed to control costs with Access-A-Ride," he said. "But we emphatically stated that they can improve efficiency of their scheduling without cutting the service off to people."

The MTA could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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