WEEKEND EDITION

Liu Vows to Reject the Taxi of Tomorrow, Citing Accessibility

| April 5, 2012 4:00 AM | Updated: May 2, 2012 1:30PM video

The Nissan NV200, aka the Taxi of Tomorrow, has disability rights advocates protesting its inaccessibility. AP/ Richard Drew.

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.

WATCH VIDEO:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg “hails” the Taxi of Tomorrow as the safest and most convenient taxi the city has ever had.  His comments precede a presentation of the Nissan NV200′s features. Video courtesy of Mayor Bloomberg.

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.”

  • Anita Hollander

    This is unacceptable. After all the work we’ve done to raise the consciousness about people with disabilities, we end up with a totally inaccessible taxi fleet? This is the best you could do? Where is the Mayor’s Office of People With Disabilities in all this? When we lost Matthew Sapolin did we lose all awareness of New Yorkers with disabilities? This is Discriminatory and Unacceptable. Think Again. Do Better.

  • Jacki Clipsham

    This is totally unacceptable and ridiculous. All taxis in London have been for many years wheelchair accessible. If you, Michael Bloomberg, had an accident which put you in a wheelchair, your wealth would enable you to have a chauffer driven car. This would enable you to avoid facing the reality of others who need to use taxis to get to work, business appointments, schools and the rest of the things ordinary people do. It would also help solve the problem that people who have NYC disabled parking permits have finding places, not to speak of whellchair using tourists and visitors.

  • Jean Ryan

    The arrogance of Yassky and Bloomberg is beyond compare. Usb ports are nice but if we can’t even get into the Taxi of Tomorrow, what good are they? The accessible version is a rear entry. We’d have to go in the street with traffic to get into it if the driver would even wait. And the cab only holds 2 passengers including the wheelchair user.

  • albert leff

    I, one of the old old rely on taxis for much of my transportation, but must pass on the preponderance of minivan cabs because their floor is too high for me to get in even though I have no visible disability. I fear that the new taxi fleet will be unavailable for my use and leave me without transportation since it seems to be a minivan.

  • Joyce West

    It is ridiculous that cabs without easy access for the disabled are being given the blessing of Mayor Bloomberg’s office. What are the disabled supposed to do? Move out of NYC?
    It’s disgusting that this discrimination is even being considered.

  • henry kaminer

    It is very inefficient to require Every cab to be wheelchair accessible. this is too expensive and does Not serve the population with disability. Our system in New York is archaic- it depends on people standing in the street and waving frantically at a taxi. This is bad enough for most people- it is terrible for people with disabilities! We should mandate a fleet of taxis that are wheel-chair accessible and that will arrive promptly to a given location when a phone call request is received! People with disabilities should not have to be on street corners waving and not every taxi should be required to have a ramp or a power lift.

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