In early April a federal judge allowed plaintiffs in Noel v. TLC to challenge the legality of New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow in a class action lawsuit. In September the Nissan NV-200 was chosen as the city’s exclusive taxi for the next decade. Disability advocates claim the taxi is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Under Title III of the ADA, when a taxi provider purchases a vehicle other than an automobile, it must be accessible unless the provider demonstrates equivalent service. Mary-Lee Smith, attorney at Disability Rights Advocates, says the Taxi of Tomorrow isn’t an automobile. “It’s very much been treated as a van, and the only place that it suddenly isn’t considered a van is New York City,” she says. Nissan’s website calls the NV-200 a commercial van, and it was named Van of the Year in 2010.
There’s an accessible version of the NV-200, but it’s costly to retrofit. Smith doesn’t see taxi owners lining up to purchase the accessible version. “There’s no reason why a taxi owner would buy an accessible taxi cab unless there’s an incentive or rule that they have to do so,” she says.
She hopes the suit sends a strong message. “What we’re hoping is that this case can send a message to other cities and other taxi owners that they can’t discriminate against people with disabilities,” she says.
“We believe strongly that we are in full compliance with the ADA,” responded Allan Fromberg, the TLC’s deputy commissioner for public affairs.