Disability rights advocates suffered a defeat last week, but are already gearing up for a comeback.
A ruling from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed a lower court’s decision that said the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission was in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act because only about 230 cabs out of more than 13,200 were accessible for people with disabilities. While the lower court’s ruling was a win for advocates calling for taxi accessibility, the appeals courts ruling, which held that “nothing in the TLC’s administration of the licensing program discriminates against persons with disabilities,” was a blow.
“It’s an unfortunate ruling but our clients are not deterred,” said Julia Pinover, a Disability Rights Advocates attorney representing the plaintiffs in the class-action suit Noel v. Taxi and Limousine Commission. “We’re circling the wagons and regrouping and figuring out our next course of action.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement that it is the responsibility of the private taxi industry to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, not the city, which only regulates it.
Pinover said Disability Rights Advocates and the plaintiffs would discuss their options this week, but offered some ideas of leads they may pursue in their quest for 100 percent accessibility in New York City taxis.
The suit originally filed had three claims against the Taxi and Limousine Commission, Pinover explained. But only the claim regarding the violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act was ever considered, leaving two others, regarding violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the New York City Human Rights Law, open to future deliberation.
“We are evaluating if they’re still alive,” said Pinover.
Another possible legal recourse is to go directly after the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” which is a van by all intents and purposes, said Pinover. When a van is used as a taxi it must be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The city maintains that there are no vans in the New York City taxi fleet, said Pinover.
The next fight will be waged in two courts: not just in the court of law, but also in the court of public opinion.
Edith Prentiss, chairperson for the Taxis For All Campaign, a plaintiff in the suit, said that while additional legal action is how real change will likely occur, additional public outreach is also important and has already proven successful.
“To see the sea change of public opinion has been interesting,” she said. “There’s been a popular culture change too, which is very refreshing.”
Pinover agreed, and went one step further, calling on officials to require that each Taxi of Tomorrow be wheelchair accessible in order to fit with what the public wants and expects.
“I think if Bloomberg and Yassky (TLC Commissioner David) want to be on the right side of history, they’ll have this fleet made accessible,” she said.
The lawsuit does not specifically call for every Taxi of Tomorrow to be wheelchair accessible, but Pinover said the new fleet of taxis presents a “golden opportunity.”