NYC Must Make Taxis Wheelchair Accessible

     MANHATTAN (CN) - New York City must make its taxicab fleet more wheelchair-accessible, a federal judge ruled, after the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission conceded that fewer than 2 percent of its cabs can serve the handicapped.
     U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels laid out the dismal statistics in an 18-page ruling.
     "Currently only 233 of the 13,237 medallion taxicabs in New York City are wheelchair accessible. ... Thus, only 1.8% of the medallion taxicab fleet is wheelchair accessible and over 98% is inaccessible. ... As a result, availability is scarce, and wait times for wheelchair accessible taxicabs are much higher than wait times for non-accessible taxicabs. ... A non-disabled person is over twenty-five (25) times more likely to hail a taxicab within ten minutes than is a person who uses a wheelchair ... The likelihood of successfully hailing any taxicab in Manhattan within 10 minutes is 87.33%, whereas the likelihood of hailing a handicap accessible cab is 3.31%," the ruling states.
     Two disabled New Yorkers, Christopher Noel and Simi Linton, joined the organizations United Spinal, The Taxis for All Campaign, 504 Democratic Club and Disabled in Action in suing the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) and its chairman David Yassky for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other charges. They filed their lawsuit on Jan. 13.
     On Friday, Dec. 23, Judge Daniels granted the plaintiffs summary judgment on ADA, in a ruling ripping the city's alleged lack of response.
     "The TLC has taken no steps to require, promote, or provide a financial incentive to non-accessible medallion owners to purchase accessible vehicles. ... The TLC admits that there is no reason why the TLC could not effectuate an increase in wheelchair accessible taxicabs," the ruling states.
     New York City Law Department Deputy Chief Robin Binder said in a statement that the city already was planning such an increase.
     "[T]he City has been working closely with the governor's office and the Legislature, and agreed with them earlier this week on a comprehensive plan for wheelchair accessibility - including the issuance of 2,000 new medallions for wheelchair accessible yellow taxicabs and requiring that 20 percent of all livery hails be wheelchair accessible," Binder said.
     According to the ruling, the city also planned a Medallion Taxicab Wheelchair Accessible Dispatch Program, which would establish protocols for passengers to call 311 to request an accessible cab. The launch date for this program has not been announced, the ruling states.
     In an email to Courthouse News, TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said he anticipated that it would launch sometime in the spring.
     Binder said in the statement that the Americans with Disabilities Act "specifically exempts taxicabs from having to be wheelchair accessible."
     Judge Daniels rejected that position.
     "The TLC argued that it may have a moral obligation, but not a legal obligation, to provide wheelchair accessible service to disabled persons. The TLC voluntarily intends to pursue significant improvements in the near future. However, the TLC's arguments of no legal obligation are unsupported by, and directly conflict with, this Circuit's interpretation of the ADA generally, and subtitle A of Title II specifically.
     "The TLC is a public entity carrying out a public regulatory function that affects and confers a benefit on New York City taxicab riders. They directly establish requirements for the programs and activities of private taxicab licensees. Under the Second Circuit's expansive interpretation of 'programs, services or activities,' and corresponding DOJ regulations, there can be no doubt that the TLC's regulatory activities are governmental activities of a public entity. Thus, the TLC cannot discriminate in any of those activities," the ruling states.
     Daniels ordered the city to start making improvements immediately.
     "The TLC must propose a comprehensive plan to provide meaningful access to taxicab service for disabled wheelchair bound passengers. Such a plan must include targeted goals and standards, as well as anticipated measurable results. Until such a plan is proposed and approved by this Court, all new taxi medallions sold or new street-hail livery licenses or permits issued by the TLC must be for wheelchair accessible vehicles," the ruling states.
     The city said it is weighing its options.
     "We are disappointed with the decision and are considering the next steps to take in court in light of this ruling," Binder stated.