A coalition of disability rights groups filed a class action lawsuit against the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) January 13, charging the commission with “failing to provide yellow taxis that men, women and children who use wheelchairs are able to access.”
There are more than 13,000 taxis in New York City and only about 240 are accessible. The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the nation.
The United Spinal Association, the 504 Democratic Club, the Taxis for All Campaign and Disabled In Action filed the lawsuit in Federal District Court in the Southern District of New York. Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit law firm that specializes in civil rights for people with disabilities is representing the plaintiffs along with Outten & Golden, a law firm that focuses on employment law.
James Weisman, senior vice president and general counsel for the United Spinal Association said, “The lack of accessible taxis means that men, women, children and the elderly who use wheelchairs are excluded from participating in the city community and deprived of utilizing this vital mode of transportation.”
Julia Pinover, an attorney for DRA who is representing the plaintiffs said, “Not being able to use taxis limits the jobs that people who use wheelchairs can take. It limits the social events they can attend.”
“New York experiences extreme and hazardous weather conditions. It leaves vulnerable populations such as people with disabilities and the elderly out in the cold, snow, or rain for intolerable periods of time. TLC’s failure to make its taxi fleet accessible is shameful and unnecessary,” she added.
Chris Noel, an individual plaintiff in the lawsuit said, “I have been using a wheelchair for almost ten years. I remember how easy it was for me to hail a cab when I was not using my wheelchair. But now, because there are so few taxis I can use, I often wait for an hour or more before an accessible taxi even passes me.”
TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg said, "While the City believes it fulfills its transportation obligations under current federal and state laws, we have made tremendous strides in improving transportation options for persons with disabilities over the years, which continues to be a priority."
The lawsuit coincides with the TLC’s pending decision on a Taxi of Tomorrow, a project to choose a single taxi model to replace the entire fleet over ten years. The New York City Council has proposed a bill, Intro 433, requiring the TLC to make the Taxi of Tomorrow accessible. The bill has 31 sponsors and proponents are seeking three more supporters to achieve a veto-proof margin before voting, said Jamin Sewell, counsel to Council Member Oliver Koppell. The TLC opposes the bill.
In December, City Council passed Intro 449, which amends the city’s administrative code regarding the livery passenger bill of rights, mandating that customers who request a wheelchair accessible vehicle “be provided with equivalent service with regard to response time, fares charged, hours and days of service availability, reservations, restrictions based upon trip purpose and other limitations on capacity or service availability.”
This article was published in the February 2011 issue of Able News.