NYC Taxi Drivers Flatten Wheelchair Mandate

     BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – New York City cab drivers want a federal judge to block a rule that would force them to make their cabs wheelchair accessible.
     Though people in wheelchairs make up less than 1 percent of New York City’s population, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has committed to making 50 percent of its taxicab fleet wheelchair accessible, and it wants the owners of coveted medallions to make that pledge a reality, according to the Sept. 22 complaint.
     The TLC made the pledge in December 2013 to settle claims that its previous ratio of wheelchair-accessible vehicles to standard taxis – 231 to 12,237 in 2011 – violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
     The city gained the right to issue thousands more wheelchair-accessible medallions in 2013 pursuant to the Hail Act, but the city auctioned off just 400 such medallions by March 2014, according to the complaint.
     The NYC Yellow Cab Drivers Association claims in its lawsuit that there is no market for remaining medallions, so the TLC plans to randomly select owner-drivers that paid a premium for unrestricted medallions and convert them to “less valuable and less desirable wheelchair medallions.
     Wheelchair medallions are more expensive, “less convenient and less comfortable to operate, and are far more difficult to lease to other drivers,” the 28-page federal lawsuit notes. “They are, therefore, also less marketable than the unrestricted medallions that plaintiffs purchased – if indeed there is any market for them at all.”
     Lead plaintiff Jaswinder Singh and other owner drivers say the law is biased because black cars – usually hailed through online apps like Uber — are not subjected to the same rules.
     The Queens-based NYC Yellow Cab Drivers Association represents owners of yellow taxis and is “primarily focused on preventing owners of unrestricted independent medallions from being forced to attach their medallions to wheel chair accessible vehicles,” the lawsuit states.
     Enumerating the pains of converting their regular medallions to special-service medallions, the lawsuit notes that wheelchair-accessible cars are more expensive to outfit, less fuel efficient and break down more often.
     “For these reasons, wheel chair-accessible [cars] are far less desirable to non-owner drivers contemplating leasing a taxi,” the lawsuit says. “Indeed often there are no drivers willing to lease wheel chair-accessible vehicles.”
     “The largest and most significant problem in operating a wheel chair-accessible medallion is that it has become increasingly difficult to lease a wheel chair-accessible vehicle to a second driver,” the lawsuit continues. “The fact that wheel chair-accessible vehicles are less comfortable to drive, more likely to break down, require the operation of a wheel chair ramp, and get worse gas mileage makes them harder to lease to second-shift drivers.”
     Named as defendants are the commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission Meera Joshi and NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, an outspoken proponent for disenfranchised New Yorkers’ rights.
     A spokesman for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission declined to comment on the lawsuit.
     Plaintiffs are represented by Daniel Ackman of Manhattan.

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