The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) unanimously approved a regulation change to allow wheelchair users to sit in the front of taxi and livery vehicles, paving the way for the industry to purchase MV-1 vehicles.
The MV-1, which is manufactured with a ramp at production, is considered more durable than vehicles that are retrofitted to become accessible later.
Production of the MV-1 began several weeks ago and there is already a back order of 4,000 vehicles, with the first 1,000 sold out. Fred Drasner, chair of the Vehicle Production Group that makes the MV-1 said the company plans to sell 12,000 vehicles next year. The MV-1 sells for about $39,000 and Drasner said the vehicle’s fuel efficiency and natural gas incentives from the government will help offset the cost.
Drasner was one of ten public speakers at the October 20 hearing who were limited to one minute each by Chairperson David Yassky, who said the commissioners were too busy to listen to more. He called the decision an “admittedly small step” and added, “I do think that we are moving in the right direction. I understand the frustration at speed.”
The change comes on the heels of an October 13th decision by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which announced its position that the TLC is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The DOJ conducted an investigation following a complaint by State Assembly Member Micah Kellner. The DOJ’s opinion is intended to influence a class action lawsuit by disability rights activists filed in January.
TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg said, “The lawsuit is misguided. Our dispatch system will be in effect in less than six months and will provide for high-quality taxi service for all New Yorkers with disabilities.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the press that accessible taxis are uncomfortable and expensive and spoke in favor of the dispatch system. “If you're in a wheelchair, it’s really hard to go out in the street and hail down a cab and get the cab to pull over and get into,” he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement saying, “I understand and appreciate the concerns raised by the U.S. Attorney’s office. Moreover, I understand the human needs of the disabled community when it comes to access to taxis. We will be addressing the issue as we consider modifications to the pending legislation.”
Kellner said the TLC should scrap its Taxi of Tomorrow plan, which aims to replace the current fleet with an inaccessible Nissan NV200, and start over. “The Justice Department spoke loud and clear that the ADA isn’t an option and taking a taxi or a livery cab is a civil right,” he said.
City Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Bronx) urged the TLC to make all taxis accessible and said 36 of the other 50 Council members agree. “I cannot understand why the City of New York isn’t doing what it should be. I hope you’ll reconsider how you configure the Taxi of Tomorrow,” he said.
Terence Moakley of United Spinal, who chaired the Taxis for All Campaign (TFAC) from 1996 through 2006, applauded the rule change and called on the TLC to make all taxis and livery cabs accessible. “Our great city has the opportunity now to set the standard for the entire nation. It’s time to seize this opportunity,” he said.
TFAC is a coalition of disability rights groups and individuals that has been pushing for taxi and livery accessibility for 15 years.
Moakley noted that the MV-1 is comfortable to enter and exit. He and other United Spinal staff members have worked with the vehicle’s makers since 2006.
Jean Ryan, former vice chair of TFAC and vice president of public affairs for Disabled Action compared the chances of hailing an accessible taxi to seeing Elvis and said, “We wholeheartedly support this new regulation of having a person in a wheelchair sit next to the driver.”
Edith Prentiss, chair of TFAC and vice president for legislative affairs of Disabled in Action said, “I think it’s a great move. It will open the door to the Karsan as well.” She was referring to an accessible vehicle that was one of three finalists for the Taxi of Tomorrow but was rejected in favor of the inaccessible Nissan.
Marvin Wasserman, a founding member of TFAC and executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled said, “Having been working on this issue for 15 years, the support that’s coming out is really heartening.”
According to online poll conducted by the New York Daily News, 64 percent of respondents think the city needs more accessible cabs and 32 percent agree with the mayor. Four percent are unsure.
This article was published in the November 2011 issue of Able News.