Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) have chosen a vehicle model that does not accommodate wheelchairs to replace the city’s 13,000 taxis for ten years.
Bloomberg and TLC Commissioner David Yassky announced the choice of the Nissan NV200 over models designed by the other two finalists, the Karsan V1 and the Ford Transit Connect, at a May 3 press conference. The Karsan vehicle was the only one with wheelchair accessibility built into the design.
The van-style Nissan vehicle, which is roomier than the current Crown Victoria, may also be more difficult to access for people with moderate disabilities, as it requires a step to enter. The city’s Department for the Aging will work with Nissan to design a safety step and other features.
Edith Prentiss, speaking on behalf of the Taxis For All Campaign, said, “Common sense would dictate the selection of a fully accessible vehicle, which can be used to accommodate Access-A-Ride users and reduce costs for the City and the MTA."
“Common decency would dictate that all New Yorkers have the same access to a taxi – and that the TLC require accessibility as a basic criteria for any cab on the road and in its Taxi of Tomorrow competition, which it inexplicably did not,” she added. Prentiss pointed out that in London, all taxis are required to be wheelchair accessible.
James Weisman, senior vice president and general counsel for the United Spinal Association said, “It helps no one. It hurts the MTA because it doesn’t do anything to reduce Access-A-Ride demand. It hurts the city of New York.”
The MTA provides taxi vouchers to Access-A-Ride customers to reduce the use of its own high-cost vehicle, which in turn saves money for the city and the MTA.
The Taxis for All Campaign, United Spinal and others are suing the TLC and Yassky with the legal assistance of Disability Rights Advocates over a lack of accessibility within the fleet, which contains less than 300 vehicles that accommodate wheelchairs now, in addition to the plan to acquire additional inaccessible vehicles.
The Nissan NV200 can be retrofitted to accommodate wheelchairs for an additional cost to drivers, which advocates say deters drivers from purchasing them.
City officials said they plan to launch a Wheelchair Accessibility Dispatch Program using information from a two-year pilot program that was criticized by advocates as ineffective. The Request for Proposals process is underway. The program will use the small portion of accessible taxis in the city fleet, as well as for-hire vehicles.
The choice also stands in contrast to public opinion gathered by the city on the website www.taxioftomorrow.com. According to the TLC poll, Ford TransitConnect received a 23% vote by 4,616 people, Karsan received 76% of votes from 15,427 people and the winner, Nissan, received 2% of the vote from 330 people.
According to a city consultant’s report obtained by The New York Times, Karsan was rejected based on a lack of experience marketing or servicing vehicles in the U.S. However, opponents of the city’s choice say the consultant’s relationship with the auto industry that may have influenced that determination.
Marvin Wasserman, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled said the TLC “falsely accused the company of having no track record of building vehicles. They hired an evaluator that had previously worked for Ford and Nissan, who's report echoed many of the same criticisms of Karsan.”
City officials said they chose the Nissan based for its safety, comfort, fuel efficiency and a built-in GPS navigation system. The new vehicle is expected to enter the streets in late 2013 and replace the current fleet within three to five years.
Karsan’s executive director Jan Nahum responded to the decision by saying, “We fervently believe that there is a strong market and an acute need for a true Taxi of Tomorrow, and we look forward to working with other forward-looking cities around the globe to make the Karsan vision a reality.”
The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s choice of the Nissan NV200 as the city’s Taxi of Tomorrow is the subject of several legal rebuttals already, which were filed in anticipation of the announcement.
State Assembly Member Micah Kellner filed a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) on March 29 based on the city’s choice of two finalists whose model vehicles do not contain wheelchair ramps. Karsan, the third finalist, submitted an accessible vehicle.
The complaint is based on the classification of each of the three vehicle finalists as vans, which are required to be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) within a “demand-responsive” transit system such as the TLC service. The ADA does not require taxis to be accessible.
“The TLC has approved medallion owners to purchase new vans with a seating capacity of fewer than 8 persons including the driver to be used as taxicabs in New York City’s demand responsive yellow medallion fleet without ensuring that all of these vans are made accessible to individuals with disabilities, or alternatively providing an equivalent system,” Kellner wrote.
The complaint also charges the TLC with violating the ADA in its current fleet, which contains some Toyota Sienna minivans that are inaccessible without requiring modifications to accommodate people with disabilities. Those vehicles received approval for purchase beginning in 2004, long after the 1992 requirement took effect.
The lack of equivalent service, as measured by response time, reservations capability, service availability and other factors, is also cited as a violation of the ADA.
Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action lawsuit against the TLC and Commissioner David Yassky on January 13 over inaccessibility of the current fleet and the Taxi of Tomorrow.
The lawsuit accuses the TLC of discrimination for offering less than 300 taxis in its fleet of 13,000 that are accessible to people with mobility disabilities.
“Each day, countless New Yorkers with mobility disabilities are excluded from participating in city life because the city’s dearth of accessible medallion taxis leaves them with no practical means to travel from one location to another,” the plaintiffs wrote.
“Recently, the Taxi Commission has made policy decisions which have resulted in a medallion fleet which is even more unusable by disabled men and women than it was previously. Defendants have made the policy decision to approve for use as medallion sport utility vehicles, which are too high for wheelchair users to enter, and hybrids, which have trunks too small to accommodate even a folding wheelchair.”
TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg responded to the charges by saying, “The TLC is confident that its policies and regulations are well grounded in the law.”
This article was published in the June 2011 issue of Able News.