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Taxis For All Campaign News Blog

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Published: May 23, 2011

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The United States attorney's office in Manhattan has opened an investigation into whether the lack of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in New York City amounts to a violation of parts of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The investigation, revealed on Monday in letters mailed to city lawyers and owners of taxi medallions, could result in the federal government's bringing a civil case against the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates which vehicles can be used as taxicabs.

Taxicab owners are not required by the city to operate vehicles that are accessible to the disabled. The Nissan NV200, the minivan chosen by the city as its exclusive yellow cab for the next decade, will not provide access either.

Federal lawyers are conducting "a thorough evaluation" of whether this complies with the disabilities act, which prohibits local governments, or private groups that provide public transportation services, from discriminating against the disabled, according to the letter sent to medallion owners.

The issue attracted the attention of federal lawyers after Assemblyman Micah Z. Kellner filed a complaint in March with the Justice Department. The city responded by pointing out that it does issue medallions for wheelchair-accessible taxicabs, and that taxi officials were planning a program to arrange cab rides by telephone for the disabled.

A spokeswoman for the United States attorney's office declined to comment on Monday. Officials at the Taxi and Limousine Commission directed questions to the city's Law Department.

"We are confident that any evaluation conducted will reach the same conclusions that we did after a careful analysis," said Gabriel Taussig, chief attorney of the city's administrative law division, in an e-mailed statement.

Several medallion owners received the letter on Monday from the United States attorney, which asked how owners determine which vehicles to use as cabs and whether federal rules are taken into account.

In a brief interview, Mr. Kellner said he was glad that the government was looking into the issue. "But I'm sad we have to turn to our court system for people with disabilities' rights to be enforced," he said.

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