A court ruling on Wednesday forced the MTA board to halt approval of a $579 million contract that would fundamentally change the agency’s Access-A-Ride program for years to come.
Transit officials sought approval to give four companies the exclusive rights to complete brokered paratransit trips, which dispatch wheelchair-accessible taxicabs and vans to transport disabled riders instead of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s blue and white buses.
But one of the companies — Curb — was not allowed to participate in the contract after the MTA earlier this month barred it from doing business with the agency for five years after a transit honcho told officials at the business they were the high bidder.
Curb filed a lawsuit last week contesting the ban — a day before an MTA inspector general report made it public.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Laurence Love on Wednesday issued a temporary restraining order halting the contract’s approval until he comes to a final ruling.
Curb has offered key services at the MTA in recent years, and was one of three companies to provide trips through the agency’s on-demand Access-A-Ride pilot, which since 2017 has offered highly-discounted taxi rides for roughly 1,200 wheelchair users.
Most Access-A-Ride trips offered through the MTA’s website, phone lines or the new brokered services must be booked a day ahead. But the on-demand trips have allowed hundreds of disabled New Yorkers to get affordable rides whenever they need them.
The program was so popular — and costly — that the MTA in 2019 announced reduced the discount for the cab rides, covering the first $15 of each trip instead of charging users a flat $2.75. The pricing change was put on hold when the pandemic hit.
Curb’s contract to provide rides through the pilot program expires at the end of June — and MTA officials said they’d notify riders whether they’ll be able to continue to book rides with the company.
“We remain committed to extending the e-hail pilot,” said MTA spokesman Tim Minton. “Our customers will be the first to know if any changes are planned. The question of Curb’s future involvement is on hold while the TRO is in effect.”
Wednesday’s ruling was the latest roadblock in the MTA’s efforts over the last year to approve the big-bucks paratransit contract.
The MTA board in October approved four companies for the contract, but revoked the deal after finding out that one of the services — Sentry — was excluded despite being a minority-owned business and submitted a lower bid than two of the winning companies.
MTA officials said Sentry was not a state-registered minority and women business enterprise when the contract was approved.