The fight for accessible taxis in New York City has taken two monumental steps forward.
On December 23rd, U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels ruled in favor of Disability Rights Advocates in a class action lawsuit charging the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) with discrimination against wheelchair users.
The judge wrote, “It is clear, however, that less than 2% of the city’s fleet being wheelchair accessible, resulting in the unavailability of taxi transportation and significantly increased waiting times for disabled persons who require wheelchairs, is not meaningful access…meaningful access for the disabled to public transportation services is not a utopian goal or political promise, it is a basic civil right.”
Edith Prentiss, chair of the Taxis for All Campaign (TFAC) said, “Judge Daniels’ decision concludes an amazing week for persons who are disabled and all those who believe in civil rights and basic fairness. We are absolutely thrilled with the judge's ruling, which strongly supports our argument that wheelchair users deserve access to New York City’s taxi system.”
Terence Moakley of United Spinal, who chaired the Taxis for All Campaign (TFAC) from 1996 through 2006 said, “The December 20th accessible yellow taxi and outer borough medallion agreement is an unqualified success for wheelchair and scooter users who live in the city, or who live in the suburbs and work in the city, or who visit New York City from places around the world. This agreement will help people with disabilities, military veterans and aging persons move around 'the greatest city in the world' much more easily.”
Days before the judge’s ruling, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reached a deal with city officials to increase livery access in northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs. The plan will create a new class of livery licenses, allowing drivers of up to 18,000 cabs to pick up street hails, twenty percent of which will be wheelchair accessible.
The deal reached on December 20th authorizes the city to sell 2,000 new accessible yellow medallions and requires the TLC to offer grants of up to $15,000 to retrofit vehicles or purchase accessible vehicles and to prepare a Disabled Accessibility Plan.
“By working together and finding common ground, I am pleased that we have been able to reach a deal that will extend taxi and livery service to the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan while ensuring full access for the disabled,” Cuomo said in a press release. “The bill as originally passed failed to address the needs of individuals with disabilities and did not provide any incentive for the livery industry to ensure disabled New Yorkers had full access to the taxicab system.”
Marvin Wasserman, a founding member of TFAC and executive director of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled said, “Back in 1980, when I met my late first wife, Sandra Schnur, who was quadriplegic, she told me that her dream was that there be accessible taxis to take her anywhere she wanted to go at any time of the day or night just like anyone else…It has been a very long and hard struggle, and sometimes we thought that it wouldn't happen in the lifetime of the generation which brought us the [Americans with Disabilities Act]. Today's agreement, with the strong support of Governor Cuomo, is bringing us a giant step closer to this goal.”
TLC Commissioner David Yassky said in an email, “The bill that the governor signed will be a great help in moving forward with a plan on accessibility and beyond that the TLC will be working with State [Department of Transportation] to come up with a strong accessibility plan. The TLC must go forward with accessible dispatch plan. Not all of the new accessible medallions will be on the road in the next year, and the accessible dispatch plan is key component in providing accessible service as soon as possible.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg first proposed the plan in his State of the City Address in January 2011 and negotiations were at a standstill for months as Cuomo threatened o veto the bill until changes were made, including more accessible taxis.
“Now that we have achieved this historic agreement, millions of New Yorkers who have never been able to get a cab in their neighborhoods will have access to safer and less costly taxi service; thousands of hard-working livery drivers – many of them immigrants – will be able to come out of the shadows and into the legal economy; and the City will receive a much-needed billion dollars in revenue,” Bloomberg said in a statement.
On January 10th, disability rights activists and city officials held an event near Madison Square Park to unveil the MV-1, a vehicle that is made wheelchair accessible at production and has been approved for use as both a New York City taxi and an Access-A-Ride vehicle. The event was held near the TLC’s recent showing of an inaccessible Nissan mini-van chosen as the city’s “Taxi of Tomorrow” by Bloomberg and the TLC. That choice set off a flurry of protests that have culminated in the landmark decisions in December.
Fred Drasner, chairman and CEO of the Vehicle Production Group (VPG) that makes the MV-1 said in a statement, “The MV-1 is truly revolutionary: a wheelchair-accessible car that is designed from the ground up to meet or exceed ADA guidelines. And because the MV-1 doesn’t have to be structurally modified, its body-on-frame, rear-wheel drive construction makes it the safest, sturdiest, most durable vehicle of its kind on the road.”
Jason Mischel, acting commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities, advocate Ronnie Ellen Raymond, Yassky and Steven Schneir, general manager of Manhattan Motorcars, VPG’s first dealer for the New York City area, also attended the event.
This article was published in the February 2012 issue of Able News.