UPDATE: Comptroller John Liu vowed Wednesday to reject the contract for the Taxi of Tomorrow until it is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Liu called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to modify the proposal.
“The new contract for taxis presents us with a historic opportunity to right a wrong that New Yorkers with disabilities have been fighting to achieve for nearly two decades,” Liu said. “Requiring cabs to have independent passenger climate controls is nice, but when you fail to make them accessible to a growing number of New Yorkers, it’s not just a slap in the face, it’s illegal. We will send back any plan that does not uphold the civil rights demanded by the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
In a statement, Edith Prentiss, the Chairperson of the Taxis for All Campaign, applauded Liu.
“We hope City Hall officials will finally realize it’s time to make full accessibility a reality, as London did with its taxis starting more than two decades ago,” she said.
On Tuesday, Mayor Bloomberg and Nissan presented the shiny new Taxi of Tomorrow to New Yorkers over wine and “fancy snacks” at the New York International Auto Show. Set to roll out in 2013, the Nissan NV200 taxis will give people’s vision a boost with overhead reading lights and their hearing a break with “low-annoyance” horns, but as for addressing mobility — they are not wheelchair-accessible.
Bloomberg and Taxi Commissioner David Yassky have said that the new taxis can be retrofitted to allow for wheelchairs, and Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer of Nissan, said the cab “has been designed so it can be modified for wheelchair users, without compromising the integrity of the vehicle,” reported Gothamist. Even so, disability-rights advocates say the taxis are still far from ideal, and New York City has missed a chance to be truly 100 percent accessible.
“We want access and we want it sooner than later,” said Joseph Rappaport, who advises the Taxis For All Campaign.
Taxis For All Chair chair Edith Prentiss called the Nissan the “taxi of yesterday” in a statement. At the unveiling on Tuesday night, several activists protested the Taxi of Tomorrow. According to DNAinfo, one advocate, Ronnie Raymond, carried a sign that read “all taxis should be accessible.”
“It is interesting that when they plan something like this, they don’t invite any disabled people at all,” Raymond said to DNAinfo. “It’s sad.”
In January 2011, Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit legal center, filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission on behalf of a group of advocacy organizations that had been fighting for a 100 percent accessible taxi fleet for many years. Federal Judge George B. Daniels ruled in late December that the city’s taxi fleet is overwhelmingly inaccessible, thus constituting discrimination against people with disabilities. The judge ordered the city to come up with a plan to “provide meaningful access to taxicab service for disabled wheelchair-bound passengers.”
In October, 2011, the United States Department of Justice filed a brief supporting Disability Rights Advocates’ position that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires the New York taxi fleet to be wheelchair-accessible.
But the city disagrees with the judge’s ruling, and has filed an appeal. The plaintiffs and the city appear in court again on April 19.
Of the roughly 13,000 cabs in New York’s fleet, about 230 are wheelchair accessible.
While the legal battle wages on, the state has also gotten involved. In December, after six months of negotiations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave Bloomberg his approval and a bill was pushed through the legislature that will bring more taxicabs to the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan. The bill will allow street hails of livery cabs, but Cuomo wouldn’t sign the bill until concerns about inaccessibility were addressed. The final bill calls for 20 percent of all livery cab licenses and for all 2,000 new yellow cab licenses to be for handicap-accessible vehicles.
The issue has spread to the pages of newspapers, too. Not one, but two first-person editorials appeared in the NY Daily News in recent months. One New York native, Robert Slayton, wrote a piece on the Taxis of Tomorrow.
“Among other problems, the seats are so high up, it’s nearly impossible to transfer from a wheelchair, unlike current taxis,” he wrote.
Dr. James Post wrote a very critical piece, which referred to a comment Bloomberg made about how it’s dangerous for a person in a wheelchair to hail a cab.
The Nissan NV200, if retrofitted to be accessible to wheelchairs, would allow for rear loading of a wheelchair, which is thought to be unsafe, said Rappaport of Taxis For All.
But what Taxis For All and other rights groups really want is equal access.
“Our goal is a fully accessible yellow cab fleet,” said Rappaport. “Ideally, any street hail should be accessible. If you’re in a wheelchair and you’re being passed by, you’re out of luck.”