MTA New York City Transit's Paratransit Advisory Committee (PAC)
This advisory body is created to serve as a liaison to the disabled community. The Paratransit Division will seek the committee’s comments on proposed changes in service, policies and procedures. It is expected that the committee will discuss matters with the constituents it represents and share the community’s concerns with the Paratransit Division. Meetings should provide a forum for an open exchange of ideas and opinions.
The Paratransit Division will consider the committee’s comments in making its decisions. However, final decisions are solely the responsibility of the Paratransit Division.
Number: A maximum of 15 members, from the five boroughs of New York City who are AAR customers and/or representatives of disability organizations.
Appointments: The Selection Committee shall choose 15 members to serve on the PAC. The Selection Committee is comprised of the Vice President of the Paratransit Division, the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD), a representative chosen by the disabled community and the chair and vice chair of the PAC. Committee members shall possess the qualifications and be able to perform the duties described in the attached job description.
Terms: PAC members shall serve one-year renewable terms.
Vacancies: The Paratransit Division will distribute a notice of solicitation of candidates for the PAC to disability advocacy organizations for distribution to their constituents. The Paratransit Division will collect letters of interest from candidates for the PAC for review by the Selection Committee. The Selection Committee will review the collected letters of interest and choose members to fill vacancies on the PAC.
Attendance: PAC members shall attend all meetings. Two unexcused consecutive absences from PAC meetings shall be grounds for removal from the PAC.
Committee Chair: The PAC will choose from among its members a chair and vice chair of the PAC. The chair is responsible for soliciting committee members for meeting agenda items and for chairing PAC meetings. The vice chair assumes the responsibilities of the chair when the chair is unavailable.
Committee Agenda: The PAC chair or vice chair shall solicit one agenda item from the PAC members and submit it to the Paratransit Division at least two weeks prior to the meeting. The Paratransit Division will add one agenda item to the agenda and distribute it to the PAC prior to the meeting.
Subcommittees: Subcommittees of the PAC will be established as needed.
Other Participants: At times it may be beneficial to have a representative of a governmental department, office or committee participate in committee meetings, such as the Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities, the New York City Department for the Aging, and the New York City Department of Transportation.
Removal: PAC members may be removed for cause (such as inability to fulfill duties of a PAC member or failure to meet the attendance requirements). A PAC member may be recommended for removal by the Vice President of the Paratransit Division or by any member of the PAC. The Vice President of the Paratransit Division will consult with the Selection Committee prior to recommending removal of a member. The PAC member will be removed upon a 51 per cent vote for removal by the voting members of the PAC.
Amendments to PAC Guidelines
NYC Transit may amend these Guidelines upon notice to the PAC and with an opportunity to comment. The PAC may propose amendments to the Guidelines upon a two-thirds vote of the voting members. The decision of the NYC Transit Paratransit Division is final.
To comment on policy and procedure initiatives and service changes proposed by MTA New York City Transit with respect to its paratransit services. To assist in identifying and suggesting solutions where policies, procedures, or service performance cause widespread adverse impact on Access-A-Ride registrants.
Must be an Access-A-Ride customer and /or a representative of a disability organization from the five boroughs of New York City. Should have a diverse educational or occupational background (individuals with experience in paratransit are desirable). Should have working familiarity with the Americans with Disabilities Act transportation regulations, good analytical skills and be able to review or formulate policies and procedures. Should also be able to work in a constructive manner in a group situation. Preferable if has experience working on transportation issues.
- Must regularly attend PAC meetings
- Must review the agenda and materials distributed to members prior to meetings and be prepared to discuss agenda items.
- Must demonstrate the ability to work on issues related to planning, development and provision of paratransit services.
Paratransit Advisory Committee (PAC)
August 4, 2020
Tom Coppola represents Staten Island.
Mr. Coppola is a native Staten Islander and a graduate of Farleigh Dickenson University with a degree in Electrical Engineering Technology. Tom worked for AT&T Labs for 28 years, leaving the company in 1998 after becoming legally blind.
Staten Island is a borough of Senior Citizens who have various and sundry disabilities. Tom finds himself in leadership roles in multiple senior groups such as President and Vice President of his local AARP Chapter for the past 20 years, Acting President of the Greek Senior Club of Staten Island for the past 10 years, President of Blessed Sacrament Seniors and head of the Senior Action Committee of St. Roch's Senior Club.
Luda Demikhovskaya represents Brooklyn.
Ms. Demikhovskaya, a disabled advocate and activist, has been a driving force on the Board of Disabled in Action, 504 Dem Club, Taxi for All Campaign, Disabilities Network of NYC and Disability Advisory Committee of HRA, as well as a member of many other advocacy organizations.
When she was 2 years old polio struck, but with crutches and braces she could walk again and graduated with a doctoral degree in chemistry and biology. She worked as a supervisor in the biochemistry lab of the largest hospital in Minsk, Belarus. In the United States, Luda faced new challenges: new language, new culture, and many other obstacles. AAR was and is an essential service for her because she uses a motorized wheelchair and can’t use the subway or buses. AAR allows her to be actively involved with organizations for people with disabilities and seniors.
In 2002, after working as a computer programmer, Luda became a social worker and lay advocate for seniors and people with disabilities in the International Center for the Disabled (ICD), Jewish Association Service for Aging (JASA), and Independent Care Service (ICS). Now retried, she continues to use her knowledge as a volunteer for seniors and people with disabilities. She provides counseling, education, and fights for their rights.
As a motorized wheelchair user who relies just on AAR, Luda understands the personal significance of accessible transportation in New York City. She has been on the AAR Paratransit Committee for years where she tries to have a positive impact through her knowledge and experience.
Ketrina Hazel represents Brooklyn.
Ms. Hazel is a disability rights advocate, motivational speaker, blogger, college student and aspiring author. As a graduate from Partners in Policymaking in 2014, she became the President and Founder of her very own self advocacy group called Voices of Power. She is former Ms. Wheelchair New York State 2018, and this provided her a platform to bring self-advocacy into schools and make them more inclusive. In addition, she serves as a council member on a variety of groups such as the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and Post-secondary Advisory council in Albany through the NYS Education. In January 2020, she accepted a job at the New York Alliance for Inclusion and Innovation (Regional Workforce Transformation Center) as the Self Advocacy lead for Region 4. The mission is to come together with self-advocates and those with disabilities within her region to find out their issues and concerns related to the Access-A-Ride (AAR) program. They will feel better represented by someone like her who is there to echo their voices in the work that she does.
José Hernandez represents the Bronx.
Mr. Hernandez is a C-5 quadriplegic due to a spinal cord injury sustained when he was 15 years old. After his injury he developed a passion for mentoring others with similar disabilities, including individuals in nursing homes and in rehabilitation centers. In 2011, Jose had the opportunity to go to Washington DC as part of United Spinal’s Roll on Capitol Hill annual event. This trip ignited an interest in advocacy, and he has been back to DC frequently as well as advocating on state and city issues. He is currently the NYC Advocacy Coordinator for United Spinal Association and the President of United Spinal’s New York City chapter. In 2019, Jose was appointed by Mayor Bill DeBlasio to be a Commissioner of the NYC Civic Engagement Commission to ensure that the city includes individuals with disabilities in all aspects of civic engagement.
Cantor Dr. Mindy Jacobsen represents Brooklyn.
Ms. Jacobsen was born in Miami, FL, where she was one of the first blind children allowed to be mainstreamed in the public-school system. At age 21, she fulfilled her dream of living independently by moving to New York City where she received her Music Education degree. Ordinated as the first blind woman cantor in Judaism's long history, in 2004, an honorary doctorate in music from her alma mater, The Hebrew Union College, Institute of Religion, School of Sacred Music.
She served for thirteen years in the senior administration of the JBI International, formally the Jewish Braille Institute of America. Ms. Jacobsen was a pioneer in the early days of speech access technology. She was one of the first technology specialist with the New York State Commission for The Blind.
As a member of the National Federation of the Blind ′NFB′ Cantor Jacobsen is the first vice president of the Diabetic Action Network and serves on the Committee to empower Underserved populations. On the regional level of the NFB, she was the First Vice President of the New York State organization for 12 years and is currently the president of the New York City Chapter. She is a member of the MTA New York City Paratransit Advisory Committee (PAC).
Cantor Jacobsen continues her 20-year association with Dorot's University Without Walls as a facilitator for a group of Seniors experiencing vision loss. She sees this as a forgotten population who has not necessarily "checked its brains at the door” but is treated as though it has collective atrophy. She plans to continue working with them until their depression and fears turn into confidence and fulfillment.
Sharlene Kraft represents Queens
She lives in Queens and has been a user of New York's paratransit services for many years. Prior to that she used paratransit services in Chicago and served on their advisory board. Ms. Kraft has used paratransit services in other states, and it is interesting to compare them.
Ms. Kraft is retired and conducts the book discussion group at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. She also serves on the Queens Advisory Board of Visions, a not for profit organization that provides a wide array of services to blind and visually impaired people.
She worked for the Office of Civil Rights, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, and for the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
Billy C. Mitchell represents Queens.
He is originally from Wendell, North Carolina and calls himself a “North Carolinian New Yorker.”
Mr. Mitchell is a single amputee and has been an AAR customer since 2007. He graduated with honors in 1975 from North Carolina’s St. Augustine’s University with a degree in History & Government. There, he served as a Lay Reader, sang and traveled with the College Choir. New York University awarded him a Martin Luther Jr. Fellowship in the school of Public Administration in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy. In 1980, he accepted a position with the NY Urban League as a Vocational Counseling Supervisor and was assigned to the League’s Computer Training Center as a Program Director where he retired in 1996. Upon completing his first year at NYU he transferred to Long Island University to complete this Master Degree.
He is a life member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (Zeta Zeta Lambda Chapter) Queens, NY. He has served in several positions in the chapter and has remained active since his initiation (28 years). He serves as Board Chair for Educators for Tomorrow (Charles Drew Day Care), Queens Village, NY. Chairman of the Alpha Phi Alpha Senior Center Board of Directors, member of Wesley E. Parrott Youth Programs, Vice Chair for Project H.Y.P.E. (Helping Young People Evolve) a mentoring program for middle school males, former Recording Secretary of the Queens Chapter of National Action Network. He is an active member of the St. Albans Congregational Church UCC of South East Queens, where he serves as a member of Wonders of Wisdom Retirement Group, and is President of the Fred Wilson Democratic Club in SEQ.
Mark Anthony Phifer represents East New York & Crown Heights Brooklyn.
Mr. Phifer was born with cerebral palsy and he travels with the use of crutches and a motorized scooter. He has been an Access-A Ride user for many years. Mr. Phifer is a native of East New York Brooklyn and a graduate of Brooklyn College with degrees in Education (Guidance and Counseling) and Sociology. Mr. Phifer has been the Director of Services for the Differently-Abled at Medgar Evers College for the past 21 years. His chief responsibility is ensuring compliance and providing accommodations and services to students, faculty and staff with disabilities in accordance with the ADA. Although he truly loves his job, Mr. Phifer has also dedicated many years of his life to community service.
Mr. Phifer serves the East New York Community as a member of the New York City Police Department’s Auxiliary Police Unit for almost 30 years where he currently holds the rank of lieutenant. He also serves as a member of the Port Authority Bus Terminal Advisory Council. He previously served a supervising dispatcher for the Brooklyn College Emergency Medical Squad, and the Canarsie Volunteer Ambulance Corp, a member of the Mayor’s Office Taskforce on Disabilities Issues where he was part of the team that increased the penalty for illegally parking in spaces reserved for people with disabilities, along with increasing the awareness of domestic violence against people with disabilities in collaboration with the New York City Police Department, a member of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Disability Mentoring Day Committee, a past member of the Access A Ride Paratransit Committee, the Brooklyn Borough President’s Committee, and Co-Advisor to the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD).
Ellen Rubin represents Manhattan (PAC Co-Chair).
Ms. Rubin is a board member for Greater Counsel of the Blind, City Access New York and Creative Adaptations for Learning. She has used Access-A-Ride for many years and is an advocate to those who use public transportation. Ellen helps members from her committees to resolve issues related to AAR and provide information from other agencies.
She previously worked at Education Equity Concepts and Mobility International USA. This woman is an avid reader and has travelled extensively for work and personal interests.
Jean Ryan represents Brooklyn.
Ms. Ryan is the president of Disabled in Action of Metropolitan NY (DIA) and understands the transportation problems people in every borough experience. She used subways for 25 years and had to stop when she could no longer manage subway stairs. As a result, she has used Access-A-Ride for many years as well as some limited use of express and local buses and occasional accessible taxis. Jean has consistently worked for people with disabilities in all forms of transportation and she looks forward to the day when most people in NYC can take subways. Ms. Ryan has been a driving force behind making all taxis and for-hire vehicles accessibly through the Taxis for All Campaign. Jean believes in working with organizations to share information, plan and participate in rallies and demonstrations and meet with the media to make positive changes for people with disabilities.
She has been an avid proponent of civil rights, including racial equality, health care equality, and full access to buildings and services such as drug stores, voting, police stations, parks, City Hall and court houses. For years, Ms. Ryan volunteered in elementary schools as well as served on Community Board 10 in Brooklyn.
In her spare time, Ms. Ryan is a gardener, reader, loves music, museums and botanical gardens, and enjoys being a grandmother. She has a master's degree in Child Clinical Psychology and a master's in TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. She also graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's in Psychology. She won an award from Hunter College for a paper on plagiarism.
Tucker Salovaara represents Manhattan.
Mr. Salovaara has been a member of the Access-A-Ride (AAR) Paratransit Advisory Committee (PAC) since May of 2016. Mr. Salovaara lives in Manhattan and is affiliated with the Youth Council at the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD). Mr. Salovaara has always been passionate about making a difference in the disabled community. When he is presented with a problem, he tries to view it from many different perspectives to be more inclusive for everyone. Mr. Salovaara has developed a prominent foundation in the disabled community and has become a powerful advocate. He strives to spread awareness and make NYC the most accessible place to live in the entire world. Currently, Mr. Salovaara is proudly working at Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB) as a Business Administrative Apprentice. He utilizes his advanced skills in web design, social media branding, and community outreach to spread awareness about TBTB’s incredible mission of altering the misconceptions surrounding disability through art.
Sharada Veerubhotla represents Queens.
Ms. Veerubhotla is a Teacher of the Visually Impaired at Lavelle school for the Blind. Prior to 2007, she worked for 13 years at Bellevue Hospital Center. Ms. Veerubhotla has a Master of Science in Special Education, Magna Cum Laude, from Hunter College CUNY. Since 2015, she has been serving on the Paratransit Advisory Committee. Ms. Veerubhotla has been an integral part of the E-hail program, having worked closely with Curb to address and resolve technical issues. Further, she has also been involved in providing feedback to improve the program based on riders’ and drivers’ inputs. Ms. Veerubhotla was also actively involved in testing and providing real time feedback on the MTA’s MY AAR app.
Additionally, she collaborated with the AAR staff and was featured in a driver training video. Ms. Veerubhotla is also a member of the ACTA since 2019 and on the subcommittees for Paratransit & Information and Technology. Some other volunteer projects Ms. Veerubhotla has been involved with include: consulting with Guggenheim Museum's Mind's Eye Program to ensure accessibility to individuals with visual impairments, training students with visual impairments on essential skills to achieve independence and college success in collaboration with the New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (CBVH), and creating and implementing 'Running a Small Business' and 'Seasonal Shopping' projects to enable students to engage with the local community. Ms. Veerubhotla was recognized as NY1's New Yorker of the Week for the dedication she has demonstrated with her students. Her interests include reading, taking long walks and listening to music.
RueZalia Watkins (PAC Chair) represents the Bronx.
Ms. Watkins is the Education Services Specialist of Vibrant Emotional Health, the New York City Chapter of the Mental Health Association of New York State. Her work involves creating solutions to increase access to instruction, services and programs for students facing emotional, behavioral, attention and/or mental health challenges from Kindergarten through adulthood. This work requires supporting and training staff in our programs as well as providing professional development in school and hospital settings. She is also involved with policy development in New York City and New York State. The strength of RueZalia’s work, however, rests in her ability to support students in ways that leads to their academic success.
RueZalia is a representative for the Independent Care System community and its Civic League for Disability Rights and is on the MTA NYCT Paratransit Advisory Committee (PAC) for Access-A-Ride. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Families on the Move, the NYC chapter of the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health. Although she lives in the Bronx, her work and life require traveling all around New York State and our country in her motorized wheelchair.