The people behind the wheel: Quemuel Arroyo’s story, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Posted: 14 March 2023 | Quemuel Arroyo - Metropolitan Transportation Authority | No comments yet
For the latest instalment of Intelligent Transport’s exclusive ‘The people behind the wheel’ series, Quemuel Arroyo, Chief Accessibility Officer at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, shares how his desire to empower people to determine the quality of their life inspired him to join the transport industry, as well as some of the key highlights of his career to date, including acquiring funding for long-term plans that will re-define access to transportation in New York.
Can you tell us about your role at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority?
We are ensuring that no one gets left behind here and that all residents and visitors get to enjoy all that the State of New York has to offer”
I feel very fortunate to serve as the first Chief Accessibility Officer here at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). We’re the largest transportation agency in all of North America, and my team and I are tasked with ensuring that all of our programmes, services and public engagements are available to all New Yorkers and tourists. We are ensuring that no one gets left behind here and that all residents and visitors get to enjoy all that the State of New York has to offer.
What inspired you to seek a career in the transport industry?
Transportation is the great equaliser in ensuring that everyone has a fair shot at the quality of life of their choice”
I am a firm believer that transportation is the great equaliser in ensuring that everyone has a fair shot at the quality of life of their choice. Having acquired a disability myself, I know first-hand the impact that an accessible transport system has in determining what is possible and within reach, and what is not.
Have you experienced any challenges in your role and, if yes, how have you overcome them?
Naturally, anyone who undertakes a new role experiences challenges. Those challenges are even greater for someone who is the first to occupy a certain position or role. But I’d say that the biggest hurdles that I encounter are those that are by-products of the type of society that we live in. I am constantly educating my peers on the fact that persons with disabilities are not just interested in getting to a doctor’s appointment or school. I have to remind my colleagues that persons with disabilities are headed to all different kinds of destinations, just like them. From school to work, to appointments, or to a bar at the end of a long day at work.
What would be the top three highlights of your career in the industry to date?
The first highlight of my career has been securing funding for long-term plans that will re-define access”
Without a doubt, the first highlight of my career has been securing funding for long-term plans that will re-define access and give a new face to the streets and public transportation system here in New York. Specifically, helping to settle the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) suit at MTA, which earmarks $30 billion dollars – the largest investment for accessibility in the U.S. – into re-designing our subway system and retrofitting all stations in order to make them accessible.
Second, is the plan to ensure that all New York City (NYC) intersections are accessible for all, including kurb cuts or pedestrian ramps and accessible pedestrian signals (APS) to ensure safe passage for pedestrians with low vision.
The third is bringing raised crosswalks to the streets of NYC. What I started as pilot in 2017, is now a robust programme at the NYC Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) that is shifting the paradigm of safety and responsibility at the intersection.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
In five years’, time I see myself having a lasting impact in the lives of our most vulnerable populations. Enhancing platforms that elevate the voices of silenced communities and delivering a sense of belonging for marginalised groups.
What key pieces of advice would you give to someone who is interested in a career in transport?
The key advice I would give to someone interested in transport is to fall in love with the problem before ever thinking you’ve got a solution.
In the future, what do you hope to see become more commonplace in the transport industry workforce?
In the future, I hope to see a transport industry that is diverse and better represents the people that it serves. I also wish to see an industry that provides for those with the highest needs first, rather and serving the squeaky wheel.
In an ideal world, what do you hope the future of public transport will look like?
In an ideal world, I believe public transport provides all riders or potential riders with the ability to move around in their communities with dignity, feeling safe and independent to move around at their own time.