The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not in fact require the city to make taxis serve the disabled—only that the city not discriminate against disabled people seeking a license to drive a cab. Ooookkkaaaay. Sadly, the news comes as one of the few viable transit options for the handicapped, Access-A-Ride, is in the process of being cut back by the MTA in favor of free MetroCards.
Currently fewer than 2 percent of city cabs can accommodate wheelchairs and, worse, the city's much heralded "Taxi of Tomorrow" is not handicap-accessible (though Nissan, who has the exclusive contract to build them, says it can be made accessible). The city, which has argued that it has "no obligation" to have handicapped-accessible cabs, is quite happy about this: "This ruling is consistent with common sense and the practical needs of both the taxi industry and the disabled, and we will continue our efforts to assist disabled riders," Mayor Bloomberg said of the decision (which you can read here).
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that while the law "prohibits the TLC from refusing to grant licenses to persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to own or operate a taxi. It does not assist persons who are consumers of the licensees' product." Further, the justices say "It may be that there is a failure to provide meaningful access to taxis for persons with disabilities. But if so, it is a failure of the taxi industry in New York City."
The decision is a big step back from the ruling it overturned, which called access to wheelchair-friendly cabs "a basic civil right." Luckily, the fight isn't over quite yet. Sid Wolinsky, one of the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs in the case, told DNAinfo it was "only round one of what is certain to be a lengthy fight," noting that several other lawsuits could be brought against the city to challenge its current taxi system. "This fight for the most basic rights of seniors and persons with disabilities will continue."
We certainly hope the fight continues. The idea that London can have every single one of its taxis be wheelchair accessible and New York City can't is bonkers. This should not be an issue that anyone is fighting about—this is about common sense and common decency. All New Yorkers, and everyone who visits the city, should be able to hail a cab.