On Dec. 6, 2013 a historic settlement agreement was announced at a press conference in Lower Manhattan between the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, United Spinal Association, and other disability organizations that would make 50 percent of yellow taxis in Manhattan wheelchair accessible no later than 2020.
“This will open incredible new opportunities for people with disabilities to have low cost, on demand transportation options in the Big Apple. New York City will also be a great destination for aging and disabled tourists, who will have confidence that they can move about the City easily and without additional burden due to their disabilities. What a great day to be a New Yorker. Thank you Jim Weisman, the Taxis for All Campaign and the board of United Spinal Association for taking on, and winning, this fight,” said Paul J. Tobin, United Spinal president and CEO.
“MTA is spending over 500 million per year on Access-A-Ride. Medicaid, the New York State Department of Social Services and the Health Department spend 200 million a year just in the Five Boroughs on taking people in wheelchairs to the doctor in privately operate ambulettes. The average cost of Access-A-Ride is $66. When have you paid $66 for a cab ride? This [agreement] will completely change the equation not only for people with disabilities but for taxpayers,” says Jim Weisman, United Spinal’s general counsel, who has been involved in New York City’s accessible transportation fight since the late 70s.
As part of the agreement, the TLC plans to publish a rule by the end of this year. When adopted, the rule will provide that starting in two years or possibly sooner they will begin phasing in accessible hybrid taxis as existing vehicles retire. According to TLC Chairman David Yassky, one out of every two new taxis to hit the streets once the phasing begins will be wheelchair accessible — up until the point when the entire fleet is at least 50 percent accessible.
“Today we join together as New Yorkers and people who care about the future of the City and the health of the City’s taxi industry and its ability to serve all New Yorkers. We join together to finally right a flaw in the taxi system; a flaw of decades and decades that has been a blot on the system that we are otherwise enormously proud of. But the failure to afford meaningful access to people in wheelchairs has been a counterpoint to that pride,” added Yassky.
Successful accessible taxi services exist in more than 100 U.S. communities, including large cities such as Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Miami, Las Vegas, and Portland. In New York City, however, very few accessible taxis are presently in operation, out of a fleet of more than 13,000 yellow cabs. These conditions have prevented many aging and disabled New Yorkers from fully participating in the communities in which they live.