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Push for Cab Access Grows

Taxis Must Accommodate Wheelchairs, U.S. Attorney ...

Taxis For All: Mayor's statements "ill-informed an...

Mayor Bloomberg on WOR: "Wheelchair-bound" can't g...

Taxis For All Campaign releases TV ad on lack of a...




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Taxis For All Campaign News Blog

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

After the Justice Department urged a federal judge to make New York City’s taxi system accessible to wheelchair users, Mayor Bloomberg has tried to defend the city’s violation of civil rights with ill-informed and dismissive comments. But he and the TLC are off the mark on virtually every point they’ve made about wheelchair-accessibility. Take a look. (All direct quotations below.)

Bloomberg: The Justice Department’s view doesn’t mean the court will agree. [Citation: “Number one, I don’t know that just because the Justice Dept. says something that we wouldn’t find something different if it were to go to court and I’m not sure what the city’s going to do yet.” (News availability, October 19, 2011)]

FACT: The Justice Department held that the city is engaged in discrimination. A federal court is unlikely to ignore this or dismiss this easily.

Bloomberg: Accessible taxis just won’t work in a city like New York. [It just doesn’t work in a city like ours and I don’t know that the Attorney General understands how people live in the city and the traffic patterns and that sort of thing.” (Oct. 19th.) “The cabs that we picked so far [for the Taxi of Tomorrow] are easier for handicapped people that are not wheelchair bound [sic].” (WOR interview, October 14th)]

FACT: Wheelchair accessibility works in London, where every taxi has a ramp that allows wheelchair users (and people with walkers and strollers) to get in easily. London started its move toward accessibility in 1989. Why wouldn’t it work here in New York, other than a lack of will by the mayor?

Bloomberg: Our dispatch plan makes more sense. [“We have a plan that we think makes a lot more sense than what the Attorney General suggested.” (Oct. 19th)]

FACT: The city’s dispatch plan would offer separate and unequal service.
Under the plan, we’d wait 20 minutes, 40 minutes or even more than an hour for a taxi (according to the TLC) after making a phone call to a special dispatch line.

Bloomberg: Drivers won’t pick up wheelchair users. [“A lot of the cab drivers just would, I think, pretend that they didn’t see you [wheelchair users trying to hail a taxi].” (WOR interview, Oct. 14, 2011)]

FACT: It’s up to Mayor Bloomberg and the TLC to enforce the law. TLC regulations and city law prohibit such service denials. In testimony before the City Council on April 11, TLC chair David Yassky described the TLC’s extensive efforts to combat service refusals and its support for a bill to increase penalties for refusals.

Bloomberg: It’s hard for wheelchair users to flag down a taxi. [“If you’re in a wheelchair, it’s really hard to go out in the street and hail down a cab and get the cab to pull over and get into and so, forget about the other reasons, just for that alone, we think there’s a better ways to do it.” (Oct. 19th)]

FACT: Wheelchair users are quite able to hail a taxi.
Our groups – the city’s leading disability rights and service organizations (list below) – and the men and women we represent are strongly in favor of accessible taxis and liveries.

Bloomberg: The cab industry will fight accessible taxis tooth-and-nail. ["I think the cab industry will fight that [accessible taxis] tooth-and-nail." (Oct. 14th)]
FACT: The Greater New York Taxi Association condemned the mayor’s “divisive” comments and stated: “Let us be clear: We’re for accessibility.”

Bloomberg: Accessible cabs are too big, so drivers “can’t establish a dialogue, and they get lower tips.” [“When the cabs are big enough for a wheelchair…cab drivers say that the passengers sit farther away and they can’t establish a dialogue, and they get lower tips.” (Oct. 14th)]

FACT: C’mon. What can you say to this?

Yassky (TLC chair): Our goal is 100% accessibility and the Taxi of Tomorrow will get us close to that. [“With one of our long-term goals being 100% accessibility of all our fleets, we believe that the Taxi of Tomorrow Request for Proposal will help us get very close to that goal.” (Testimony of David Yassky before Assembly committees, July 14, 2011)]

FACT: The TLC selected a non-accessible Nissan NV2000 as the Taxi of Tomorrow on May 3rd. This vehicle would be in use as the exclusive model for yellow taxis for a decade. That means that the TLC has no short- or long-term goals for 100% accessibility.

Bloomberg: There’s no demand for accessible taxis. [“…There are cabs right now that are accessible and there’s virtually no demand for them and the reason I think, more than anything, cause certainly there are people in wheelchairs who need service, but they just can’t go out and flag ‘em down.” (Oct. 19th)]

FACT: Only 230 yellow taxis are accessible out of 13,237 cabs – one in 54. Why would wheelchair users try to hail a taxi with those kinds of odds? This is a similar argument to those made in the 1980s when wheelchair-accessible buses were proposed.

Yassky: We don’t know of any vehicle that is accessible and “ecology-friendly.” [“To our knowledge, there currently is no vehicle that exists on the market today or even in production that is both ‘ecology friendly’ and wheelchair accessible and would meet the needs of the taxicab industry.” (July 14th)]

FACT: At the time, the TLC was engaged in negotiations concerning the MV-1 vehicle, which is accessible, has a compressed natural gas (CNG) option and was designed with the needs of the taxi industry in mind. Its backers include taxi fleet owners from Chicago.

Bloomberg: Accessible taxis sell for about $15,000 more.

FACT: Most wheelchair-accessible taxis are available at far less than the extra $15,000 the mayor claims. In addition, there are federal tax credits and a potential state tax credit (passed by both houses of the legislature) that will lower the real price of accessible vehicles significantly.

Bloomberg: Accessible vehicles aren’t as comfortable for “handicapped people that are not wheelchair bound [sic]” or for the “average” rider. [“Their suspension is much worse so the average person riding in them finds them really uncomfortable and they use a lot more gas.” (Oct. 19th)]

FACT: Just what is an average rider? Many riders find non-accessible minivans hard to get in because they’re too high off the ground and say there’s too little legroom in many cabs. Beyond that, the new MV-1 is factory-built in the U.S. as an accessible taxi. Structural concerns from retrofitting don't apply to this new vehicle.

Bloomberg: The street-hail bill would make a big difference for under-served neighborhoods. [“The bill that would give taxi service to four boroughs and everything north of 96th street in Manhattan that have not had taxi service ever is a bill that will really make a big difference.” (Oct. 19th)]

FACT: The city’s street-hail bill perpetuates a system in which an under-served group is shut out
, even while it is intended to increase service to ‘under-served’ neighborhoods.

Taxis For All Campaign members include: Bronx Independent Living Services • Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled · Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York · Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York · Disabilities Network of New York City · Harlem Independent Living Center · National Multiple Sclerosis Society, NYC-Southern New York Chapter · United Spinal Association · VetsFirst · 504 Dems-North Star · 504 Democratic Club
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

From The Wall Street Journal
October 14, 2011

The Justice Department said Thursday that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has failed to provide fair service to the disabled, and until it does, every new yellow cab in the city should be wheelchair accessible.

In a 23-page court filing, the federal government sided with four disabled-rights groups that filed a lawsuit in January. Assistant U.S. Attorney Natalie Kuehler said the Taxi and Limousine Commission must have "equivalent service" for disabled people—meaning all new cabs in the fleet are wheelchair accessible.

"[T]he TLC must require that all new vehicles purchased or leased for use as taxicabs…are 'readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs'," Ms. Kuehler wrote.

As part of an ambitious attempt to remake the city's taxi fleet, the TLC chose the Nissan NV200 as the city's exclusive new cab model. But the vehicle isn't wheelchair-accessible.

In a statement, David Yassky, the chairman of the TLC, called the lawsuit "misguided" because the commission was developing a new dispatch system that "will be in effect in less than six months and will provide for high-quality taxi service for all New Yorkers with disabilities."

The TLC had asked U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels to give it until mid-2012, when the agency expects to have implemented a dispatch system for wheelchair-accessible cabs, and the state legislature to pass a bill to increase the number of taxi medallions for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Currently, about 2% of New York City's roughly 13,000 yellow taxis have equipment that allows wheelchair users to get in and out. The Justice Department said the likelihood of a nondisabled person hailing a cab within 10 minutes is 87%, compared with just 3% for a disabled person.

The Justice Department said the TLC has an important regulatory role in managing the taxi fleet and must take action to make more of the fleet is accessible. It isn't enough, the department argued, for the city to say a dispatch system is in development to direct yellow taxis to customers.

The TLC "should not be allowed to continue to violate the [Americans with Disabilities Act] for an indeterminate amount of time based on their hope that the dispatch system will operate smoothly and the state legislature will pass a bill," Ms. Kuehler wrote.

A number of groups advocating for the rights of the disabled — United Spinal, the Taxis for All Campaign, 504 Democratic Club, and Disabled in Action—filed a lawsuit against the TLC, alleging the taxi fleet violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recent moves to add more sport-utility vehicles and hybrid vehicles has only made the access problem worse, the suit charges.

The lawsuit's supporters hailed the Justice Department's move, saying it adds heft to the allegations.

State Assemblyman Micah Kellner of the Upper East Side, who asked the Justice Department to intervene, said, "I'm thrilled that the highest law-enforcement agency in the land has agreed with me and with so many wheelchair-using New Yorkers that they have a right to use one of New York City's most iconic modes of transportation, taxis."

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From The New York Times October 13, 2011

The United States attorney's office in Manhattan said on Thursday that the lack of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in New York City violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and it urged a federal judge to force the city to quickly address the problem.

The remarks, issued in support of a lawsuit brought against the city in January by several disability rights groups, amounted to a strongly worded criticism of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which has struggled to find ways to accommodate travelers who use wheelchairs.

It is unusual for the United States attorney to formally present a position on a pending lawsuit, but in a letter to the judge, the prosecutor, Preet Bharara, wrote that the federal government had "a strong interest in this matter" and urged the court to find in the plaintiffs' favor.

The city does not require yellow-cab owners to purchase wheelchair-accessible taxis, and only 232 vehicles in the 13,000-strong fleet can currently accommodate wheelchairs. The city recently selected a Nissan minivan that cannot accommodate wheelchairs to replace the entire taxi fleet over the next decade, prompting harsh criticism from disability advocates.

Mr. Bharara's office argued that it was "untenable" for the city to remain in violation of the disabilities act, even as the taxi commission is exploring other options to provide services to the disabled, including a high-tech dispatch system and the sale of additional medallions specifically for wheelchair-accessible cabs.

The taxi and limousine commissioner, David S. Yassky, said in a statement on Thursday that the lawsuit was misguided. "Our dispatch system will be in effect in less than six months and will provide for high-quality taxi service for all New Yorkers with disabilities," Mr. Yassky wrote.

But federal lawyers, who have been investigating the issue since May, said the city's plans to unveil a new dispatch program by early 2012 were "speculative" at best. "Defendants should not be allowed to continue to violate the A.D.A. for an indeterminate amount of time," Mr. Bharara's office wrote.

A ruling in the suit is not expected until November. Even if the judge, George B. Daniels of Federal District Court in Manhattan, rules against the city, it is unclear how soon a new policy fitting the requirements of the disabilities act could be created. But the Nissan minivan might have to be reconsidered.

The remarks from the United States attorney were welcomed by politicians and advocates.

"It's quite a statement when the highest law enforcement authority in the United States is saying that we need more accessibility in our taxi system," said Assemblyman Micah Z. Kellner, who filed a complaint about the issue in March with the Justice Department.

"It gives huge strength to our position when the federal government steps in and says 'we concur,' " Mr. Kellner added.

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