Here’s the latest update in our long fight to make NYC’s entire taxi fleet accessible to wheelchair users and all people with disabilities.
A showdown occurred at a NYC Council hearing regarding Intro #433-A which, if passed, would require all new taxis to be accessible.
A year and a half ago Governor Cuomo signed a bill passed by the NYS Legislature which would require the addition of 2,000 new accessible taxis to the fleet of 13,000 yellow cabs which serve Manhattan below 96th Street and the NYC airports.
Several days later a Federal District Court judge granted summary judgment for United Spinal Association and other plaintiffs in a suit seeking meaningful access to NYC’s yellow cabs. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and the case is now back at the trial level where the judge has granted plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to require all van-style taxis to be accessible, as required by the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) ADA regulations. The claim would require the Nissan NV200, Mayor Bloomberg’s choice for the Taxi of Tomorrow to be accessible. Bloomberg seeks to perpetuate the inaccessibility of the taxi system. The state law, supported by Cuomo, which would have required the addition of 2,000 accessible cabs, was declared unconstitutional by a NY court which held that the addition of new taxis to the fleet is a matter to be determined by the NYC Council.
This brings us to Intro #433-A, a measure supported by a veto-proof majority of Councilmembers, introduced by disability advocate and friend, Councilmember Oliver Koppell. Not surprisingly, the Bloomberg Administration, represented by spokesperson Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky, opposed the bill. Instead Bloomberg favors a dispatch program which began several months ago and sends the 233 accessible cabs already in operation to callers familiar with the program.
Bloomberg, Yassky, Council Transportation Chair James Vacca and Council Speaker Christine Quinn do not support this bill despite $700 million being spent by Medicaid and the New York City Transit (NYCT) paratransit program on transportation for wheelchair and scooter users. Vacca would not allow a hearing on Councilmember Koppell’s bill until Koppell exercised “sponsor’s privilege”, a Council procedural rule allowing Koppell to force a hearing. Vacca is probably doing the bidding of Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose office has refused to allow her to meet with representatives of people with disabilities seeking access to the yellow cabs. Quinn, herself a gay activist, was outraged when two gay men were asked to leave a cab in which they were embracing. Apparently, she feels no such outrage over the tens of thousands of wheelchair and scooter users who reside in and visit NYC everyday who cannot access the taxi system.
Bloomberg’s opposition to accessible taxis is based on bias, misinformation and obstinacy. His bias is illustrated by his remarks on a radio show when he explained that his opposition was caused by his perception of the “danger” for people in wheelchairs on NYC streets hailing cabs. He added that those without disabilities would not enjoy the ride in an accessible cab (how he knows this no one knows). Last, but certainly not least in the “ridiculous reasons for opposing accessibility” category, is Bloomberg’s incredibly bigoted remark, that is, if you substitute other protected classes for wheelchair users. Bloomberg feels that wheelchair users will sit too far from the driver in an accessible cab to establish a dialogue and therefore will be poor tippers. Keep wheelchair users out of taxis because they will be poor tippers. Imagine if he had said Jews, blacks, women, Latinos, elderly people, Italians or gays will be poor tippers. We’d all be outraged but of course he’d never say that. He’d only say it, without fear of any moral consequence, about people with disabilities.
Councilmember Koppell can demand a vote on this bill. It is supported by so many Councilmembers that should the Mayor veto it, which would be another despicable act, it could become law anyway.
The Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn, currently running for mayor, seeking both Bloomberg’s support and the support of the yellow cab industry, will have a lot to say about this bill’s future. Will she rise to the occasion, do the right thing, and support access or will she feel she risks too much to support us?
The handwriting is on the wall. Change happens. In a country where gays are marrying and a black man is President, it does not require too much imagination to envision a city saving hundreds of millions annually on ADA paratransit and Medicaid ambulettes while it provides taxi service to all residents and visitors, not just to those who can walk.
Learn more about United Spinal’s efforts to make NYC’s taxi fleet fully accessible.
United Spinal SVP & General Counsel