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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NYC Taxis, the Mayor and the U.S. Attorney

Sunday October 16 the New York Daily News published an editorial that took me aback--"Mayor Bloomberg Must Make the City's Taxis 100% Wheelchair Accessible". A few days earlier the Manhattan U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara filed court papers that the government agrees with disabled activists who have sued the Taxi and Limousine Commission. In no uncertain and in unusually blunt terms Bharara wrote the TLC cannot continue to violate the ADA. The U.S. Attorney's remarks are out of the norm and are without question the strongest criticism of the mayor and the TLC to date. At present, the city does not require taxis to be accessible. The NY Daily News noted that "there are 13,237 yellow taxis; 231 can accommodate a wheelchair. That's 1.7%, making the chance of hailing one almost impossible. That tiny proportion clashes with the ADA's requirement of equality of access and cannot be remedied by a sketchy plan for a system of telephone-dispatched wheelchair-accessible cabs. What's more, federal standards mandate that vans must be accessible when they are employed as cabs.
Bharara got to the point, stating, "a ruling by this court now that the city is obligated to ensure that all new taxicabs are wheelchair-accessible is all the more important because it will likely have a significant impact on both the city's implementation of an accessible taxicab dispatch system and its selection of the vehicle that will become the 'Taxi of Tomorrow.'"

The TLC concept of a dispatch system will not only fail miserably (which it did under a test run last summer) it is an obvious attempt to avoid complying with the ADA. Based on the U.S. Attorney's words it seems that the mayor and TLC have no choice but to accept the fact they cannot continue to break the law. The so called taxi of tomorrow must be accessible. This losing fight on the part of the city fight reminds me of the late 1970s when Mayor Koch was violently opposed to making city buses accessible. I vividly recall Koch loudly telling reporters it would be cheaper to rent a limo for every person with a disability than putting lifts on NYC buses. Koch was not only wrong but spectacularly wrong. NYC buses are not only accessible but are used by thousands of disabled people every day. I have no doubt Mayor Bloomberg is as impressively wrong as Koch was.

Bloomberg will no doubt try and fight the U.S. Attorney. His administration has been hostile to disability rights for quite some time (see my post about hurricane shelters and lack of accessible locations to vote). I am hopeful this is a fight Bloomberg and the TLC will lose. Even with a victory change will be slow to come. Hailing a cab for a person such as myself that uses a wheelchair is an exercise in futility. I tease my friends an armed bank robber being chased by the police has a better chance of haling a cab in New York City than I do. But do not take my word for it. In a letter to the editor published by New Mobility, a yuppie magazine for people with a disability, Ellen Stohl, a visitor to the city wrote: "I just returned from a trip to New York City. Cabs do not stop for people in chairs. Outside the Empire State Building, my family and I tried to hail a cab. My husband kept flagging them down, but they would pull in and then pull right back out when they saw the chair." This is an every day event for anyone in NYC that uses a wheelchair and is naive enough to try and hail a cab. But Stohl is a smart woman. She learned the NYC way to hail a cab. She wrote "I finally had to hide behind a big flower pot while my husband and a ticket salesperson waived down a cab. We got my mother-in-law and daughter into the cab before I came out of hiding so the cabbie could not leave". And that my friends is about the only way a person that uses a wheelchair in NYC can get a cabbie to stop. It is grossly wrong and the norm. If the Mayor and TLC have their way nothing will change for decades. If they lose, I hope NYC cabbies of the future may actually change--there would at least be hope someday I can hail a cab like other New Yorkers.


Phil Dzialo said...

I continue to be amazed and shell-shocked at the "indifference" of people with power to those with disabilities and handicaps. To choose not to be indifferent extracts a price: money, voter disapproval, campaign contributors disapproval...easier to be approved by the other indifferent pieces of the population than to gain the disapproval of the minority disabled community...much of which is with a voice. Frankly, too many organizations don't give a shit and that's an indictment of the many.

@contrary_motion said...

The Nissan NV200 is not just inaccessible for people with wheelchairs. It actually would pose problems for a lot of people with mobility issues.

Technically it has a high step in height (About 18 inches) and it is not just a simple case of just sitting in like in a regular car, its more of a climb.

That means people with bad knees and hips (to give a small example) will find it difficult. The first Boomers are turning 65 this year and access is going to become a bigger and bigger issue over the coming years. This Taxi will affect millions of NYC residents (again not just wheelchair users)and potentially make NYC more attractive as a holiday destination (accessible cities will become more populare as populations age over the next 10 to 15 years.

I live in Ireland and we have this type of Taxi,many older people refuse to attempt to climb into these vehicles because of the high step and high seat height. The fact is that there are many disabled people of all ages that are ambulant and that would find this type of vehicle impossible to get into.

Disabled people have done NYC a huge favour by forcing this judgment. Well done to everyone involved. I hope that this time around that they will build you a purpose built low floor accessible taxi that has accessible seating that suits every mobility issue.

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