The fight for taxi accessibility for wheelchair users in New York City is picking up steam. A series of recent events has thrown taxi access into the spotlight and a pending court decision could influence the future of the fleet.
A class action lawsuit charging the City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) with discrimination is winding its way through the federal court system with a hearing scheduled for November 22 before United States District Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York.
Lawyer Julia Pinover of Disability Rights Advocates, the nonprofit legal center representing the plaintiffs said, “It could be a long oral argument. If the judge rules with either party, the lawsuit’s over at the trial stage.”
[Photo: Jean Ryan and Nadina LaSpina pretend to hail a cab.]
The TLC maintains that it has followed the law and recognizes the need to expand taxi service to wheelchair users. A central dispatch system to link customers with the City’s 240 accessible taxis is in the works, but the TLC says it is not required to make all taxis accessible by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Activists who disagree took their message to the TLC’s weeklong expo of the Nissan NV200 mini-van chosen as the “Taxi for Tomorrow,” where they held a “Roll-In” November 3. Members of Disabled in Action (DIA) and other groups rolled into the expo site in their wheelchairs and then sat in front of the inaccessible van on display, asking Nissan representatives how to get in.
One Nissan representative expressed sympathy over the situation and another asked activist Jean Ryan, former vice chair of the Taxis For All Campaign (TFAC) and vice president of public affairs for DIA, to leave the area around the display when her allotted 15 minutes of viewing time had ended.
Nissan representatives handed out a flier that included the words, “We understand the concerns presented by some disability advocates and want you to know about plans for making the NV200 Taxi accessible to people in wheelchairs. The interior concept on display at the Design Expo does not support wheelchair access. However, the NV200 Taxi is being designed to support an accessible version.”
The statement continues, “In addition, features planned for the NV200 Taxi such as sliding doors, low step-in height, grab bars and an entry step will improve access for many people with mobility limitations.”
TFAC Chair Edith Prentiss said, “At this point we really shouldn’t have to have retrofitted. We shouldn’t have to be in the back seat behind the [driver]. We really deserve better access. From the back of the back seat you can’t reach the card swipe, we certainly can’t talk to the driver unless they put a mic in. Now in London they have microphones for them but this is New York, we know we won’t get those.”
Prentiss pointed to the Nissan NV200 on display and added, “Doesn’t it look like something that you would get with a McDonald’s meal?”
The TLC voted in October to allow taxi owners to purchase the new MV-1 made by the Vehicle Production Group, which has a ramp installed at production and wheelchair seating in front by the driver. But the TLC has not required the industry to buy them.