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Taxis For All Campaign News Blog

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM


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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