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Friday, December 10, 2010

Accessible NYC Cabs: TLC is Opposed

About once a year I hail a taxi in NYC. This may be a simple everyday activity for tourists and city residents but is never easy or simple when you use a wheelchair. Cabbies in NYC are a mixed bag and none know a thing about wheelchairs. No cabbie has ever been happy to see me and most make it clear they are decidedly unhappy to pick me up. Instead I use the MTA buses and have been doing so since they were introduced in the late 1970s. Opposition to making city buses was fierce. Former Mayor Koch was opposed and famously remarked it would be cheaper to hire a limo for every person with a disability than make the buses accessible. Koch was dead wrong as millions of people have benefited from accessible buses and 30 years later service is routinely good (though slow). These thoughts and memories sprung to mind this week because the TLC is in the process of choosing the cab of the future. Disability activists want the new cabs to be accessible. As I have come to expect in all things accessible in transportation the TLC is opposed.

Unlike the MTA 30 years ago when the city was upfront in their opposition to access, the TLC is being sneaky (underhanded) in trying to avoid access issues. Again, I am not surprised. Opposition when it comes to access on planes, cars, trains, and boats remains the norm—it is as though that pesky law known as the ADA did not exist. Opposition is always fierce and commonplace among a multitude of institutions and businesses. In fact at no point in my life am I more aware of my disability than when I am using mass transportation or attending a large event at a stadium or theatre. In fact my son recently attended a game at MSG without me and was stunned as he put it “how easy bipedal life is when compared to your constant access aggravations”. How aggravating is access? Consider this: In NYC there are 13,237 yellow cabs. How many do you think are accessible? Does 240 sound correct? In a word, yes. A grand total of 240 cabs are accessible. Think about this. Does this sound like a “reasonable accommodation? Common sense tells me no. Experience tells me an emphatic no!

The TLC thinks a centralized dispatch system is the answer rather than the obvious—the obvious is making hundreds if not thousands of cabs accessible. According to the TLC “We believe such a dispatch system is an achievable goal that would materially improve transportation options for wheelchair users in lieu of a fully wheelchair-accessible taxicab fleet”. If you believe this dispatch system is fair or will work I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn. If I have learned anything in the last 30 years it is that separate is inherently unequal, a belief that is the bedrock of our educational system. Any sort of paratransit or transit alternative simply does not work. Such systems are designed to fail by providing inferior service. I speak from experience forevery such system I have tried to use has been an abysmal failure. A quick glance at accessible mass transportation reveals that the more dissent and protests that took place led directly to improved access for all. I feel old writing this but back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when opposition to making NYC buses was common I was what people called a “bus buddy”. I was taught and subsequently taught other people with a disability how to get on and off the bus. Those early days were hard—I was routinely harassed by my fellow passengers and MTA bus drivers. I vividly recall one bus flying by me in Harlem with people all chanting “go, go, go”. Where were they going? By me, the scourge of the earth, for that is exactly how I was treated. Fast forward to today. The MTA buses provide good service for all, meaning those that can walk and those that cannot. Of course we are talking about buses that are slow, over crowded but the point here is that I am usually treated equally. This ense of equality should extend to taxi service in NYC. Other cities in the USA and abroad have achieved this. Here cities like London and San Francisco come to mind. Granted NYC is a hard place to navigate and survive, but we need not make things harder than they need be. And getting a cab in NYV is hard and aggravating. It is an invitation for social and practical abuse. In opposing to making a sizable portion of the NYC taxi fleet accessible a clear message is being sent—people with disabilities are second-class citizens we do not want in our cars. I for one find this appalling and most likely illegal


Unknown said...

Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution have I been able to find it written that U.S. citizen can be denied equal transportation due to physical or mental disability.
I wonder if you have entertained the idea of pursuing this issue as Larry Flynt did for his right to freedom of expression.
All it would take is a 15 minute course for all cab drivers to learn how to put a wheelchair in the trunk...if that long!

Unknown said...

A young physically disabled married woman with 2 school age children approached me 25 years ago since the public library forced her enter the library with her children through the back entrance. Stairs were the only method of entry in the front. To gain access for just one book for her children's school project, this woman had to drive through a narrow passageway to the back of the library, ring a bell and wait in all types of weather for up to a half hour to enter said library. I asked one of the library staff who I personally knew why. The reply I received was to the effect, "She can wait in the snow and ice. Someone will answer the bell and let her in when they get around to it,".
My mobility was better then.
I sort of used unconventional methods of conveying the necessity of a ramp in FRONT of this library. Letters were not working. I was not the only person using unconventional, yet legal, methods to fight for the ramp. Within five years, construction of the FRONT ramp began.
Of course by now said ramp has been beautified, steps rarely in use by all patrons of said library.
How many more crappy buses, makeshift ramps,insults, and unconventional devious methods must the physically and mentally challenged endure?
I am getting older now.
I am tired of whipping out the U.S. Constitution and saying, "Read this. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it state that a physically and/or mentally challenged person does not have equal rights".

Unknown said...
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