You think it is hard getting a cab? Try catching one while in a wheelchair. It isn't easy, and despite the TLC making a big fuss about their "Taxi of the Tomorrow" competition, it isn't going to get better anytime soon. Of the three finalists for the title, the TLC managed to choose the two models that aren't handicap-accessible—a fact that the U.S. Attorney's office reiterated yesterday when it surprisingly came out in support of a lawsuit that argues the city's cabs violate the Americans With Disabilities Act. The U.S. Attorney has been investigating the issue since May.
The U.S. Attorney's office came out yesterday in support of lawsuit brought against the city in January by several disability rights groups. The move raised a few eyebrows as he judge in the case, George B. Daniels, is not expected to rule until at least next month ("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).
While it waits for a ruling, the city doesn't really seem to be taking the suit very seriously. "I don't think the Justice Department has ever been to New York," Mayor Bloomberg said during a radio interview this morning. "You just can't take a wheelchair out into the street and try and hail a cab. It is dangerous and a lot of drivers just ignore them." Another reason hizzoner gave for not wanting more wheelchair accessible cabs? "A lot of drivers say the passengers are too far away and so they can't have a good dialogue."
Bloomberg and the TLC claim that the handicapped will be better served by a new, as yet unreleased, high-tech dispatch system and additional handicap-accessible medallions which would come with Bloomberg's proposed inter-borough taxi plan which is working its way through Albany. But the US Attorney doesn't think it is fair to make people keep waiting: "Defendants should not be allowed to continue to violate the A.D.A. for an indeterminate amount of time," Preet Bharara's office wrote.
Sadly, even if Judge Daniels rules against the city it is unclear how soon the TLC could figure out a new policy so that it isn't violating the AWDA. Presumably the Nissan Taxi of Tomorrow would have to be rethought, though there is little evidence the city would be interested in going with the people's choice for a future cab, the Karsan Kab.