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‘Son of Sam’ survivor now struggles with Access-A-Ride rules

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BROOKLYN -- Robert Violante, 58, became famous because of a front-page tragedy.

On July 31, 1977, Violante—then 20—was on his first date with Stacy Moskowitz in Bath Beach, Brooklyn. That’s when a gunman carrying a .44 caliber weapon snuck up on them in their parked car and shattered their lives.

Moskowitz, the only blond victim of “Son of Sam,” didn’t survive. Violante was shot in the left eye and rendered legally blind.

David Berkowitz, a postal employee from Yonkers, was later apprehended—because of a parking tickets--and went to prison for 25 years to life. The serial killier left six dead and seven wounded.

Violante went on to spend 35 years as a U.S. Post Office employee, continued to live in Brooklyn, and that’s where he’s now retired.

But three times a week, he books a trip on an Access-a-Ride mini-bus to visit his mother in a Queens nursing home.

“Ninety percent of the time, you’re riding around in the vehicles for an hour and a half, two hours, two and a half hours,” Violante noted to PIX11 Investigates.

That’s partly because Access-a-Ride is a shared ride service, according to New York City Transit, which has run the operation since 1993.

But Violante complained to PIX 11 that Access-a-Ride has one-way rules, and it’s not fair.

“They’re allowed to be a half hour late, whereas, I’m only allowed to be five minutes late,” Violante said.

Violante claimed he was left in the lurch three different times, because the driver thought he hadn’t come to the vehicle within the five minute ‘time frame.’

He cited one, recent case.

“My pick-up time was 11:32 a.m., to be exact,” Violante said. “I came down at 11:36, and he was gone already.”

Violante claims the driver didn’t answer the phone, when he first tried to call him.

When Violante got through, he recalled, “The driver said he was not going to turn around and come get me.”

Access-a-Ride has two thousand vehicles working for the program, along with livery car services, and more than 136,000 people registered. Customers have to make reservations one or two days in advance. The reservation center gets more than 14,000 calls every day, according to New York City Transit.

One of the most upsetting aspects of the program, according to 80-year-old Frances Noren of Staten Island, is the frustration of not getting dropped off all the time, when you’re so close to home.

Noren, who’s had back surgery and has trouble with her legs, recalled one trip when she was only about two blocks from home.

“He kept going. I said, ‘Where are you going?! I live here! Drop me off!’ He said, ‘No, I have another pick-up.”

When we took these concerns to Kevin Ortiz, spokesperson for New York City Transit—a division of the MTA—he sent us a statement explaining the Access a Ride program.

“While customers expect direct service, we need to remind them that Access-a-Ride is a shared ride service and the ‘ride time’ allowances are comparable to those of individuals traveling the same distance by a fixed route (bus or subway).

Kevin Ortiz said New York City Transit reviewed Violante’s service history from the month of January (so far) and December and found he had taken 42 trips. Access a Ride said there was one, late pick up of four minutes for January.

There were two, late pickups in December: one, four minutes and the other, six minutes. Regarding the length of Violante’s trips home, Ortiz noted, “We see that no trips exceeded the ride time allowance.”

Access a Ride got some bad press recently, when surveillance video showed one of its mini-buses hitting an 8-year old school boy at an intersection in Long Island City, when the child was carefully crossing at 29th Street and 39th Avenue.

City Councilman James Van Bramer said, “In that instance, the child was doing everything right, and it was the driver who blew a stop sign and made a left hand turn, when there was an 8 year old boy clearly in the intersection,” Van Bramer pointed out.

“That driver was either distracted or a terrible driver.”

Violante and Noren, meantime, aren’t complaining about reckless drivers—just the way the system works.

“The major problem is the MTA,” Violante said. “The way they map out their trips.”