A June federal appeals court decision that New York City isn’t required to provide accessible taxis has derailed hopes for equitable transportation in the short term. “There would have been 6,000 accessible livery cabs in the four boroughs and 2,000 new accessible cabs in Manhattan,” says James Weisman, general counsel for United Spinal Association, referring to an earlier ruling that was overturned.
The decision’s impact is far reaching because cities like Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have halted making taxis accessible. However, accessible taxi advocates aren’t giving up. Weisman says all 12 judges of the 2nd Circuit of Appeals are being petitioned to rehear the case instead of the initial three-judge panel.
Disability advocates have been critical of the city’s meager efforts to retrofit new and existing taxis. Chris Noel, lead plaintiff against the city, says federal monies were available for modifications, but the Taxi and Limousine Commission showed little interest. “The TLC didn’t promote it to the fleet owners and they pretty much battled us in court [instead],” says Noel.
Noel blames NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and TLC Commissioner David Yassky for being out of touch with the needs of citizens with disabilities. Allan Fromberg, TLC’s public affairs commissioner, refutes these claims, saying the city will soon launch an accessible taxi dispatch system. Advocates have rejected this system as not truly equal.
An accessible taxi dispatch system comes close to meeting the letter of the law, but it certainly doesn’t meet the spirit of the ADA, which mandates equal rights and access for people with disabilities. Such a system sends a message that NYC doesn’t have to respect the right of all people to use a private taxi service that’s regulated by an entity of local government. This will continue to motivate advocates as the long legal battle continues to play out.