Just days after Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo worked out their differences and agreed on a plan to allow livery cabs to take street-hails in the outer-boroughs, a federal judge has hit the brakes. U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels said that the current fleet of taxis do discriminate against people with disabilities and the city may only issue new medallions or "street-hail" permits to wheelchair-accessible taxi cabs and livery cabs.
Only 232 of NYC's 13,237 taxis are accessible to people who use wheelchairs. Disability Rights Advocates point out, "Because multiple modes of transportation, including subway stations are also inaccessible, the lack of accessible taxis has left wheelchair users with no viable way to travel in New York City. A non-disabled person is over 25 times more likely to get a taxi within ten minutes than is a person who uses a wheelchair." Also, "London’s taxi fleet of over 19,000 cabs has been 100% wheelchair accessible for many years."
In its case, NYC claimed that it has no obligation to have handicap-accessible cabs. Yesterday, Judge Daniels found, "[t]he acknowledged lack of meaningful access is a direct result of the policies, practices, and regulations of the TLC. The TLC’s exercise of its regulatory authority alone has created the discriminatory effects on disabled riders who require the use of wheelchairs. Only the proper exercise of that authority can fix the problem that it created and neglected in the past. The disabled who seek meaningful access to taxicab services have nowhere else to turn to enforce their civil rights."
Under the city's plan for livery cab street hails, only 20% of the livery cabs need to be wheelchair accessible. According to the NY Times, "The Bloomberg administration must now present an extensive report to the judge that describes a plan for expanding the availability of wheelchair-accessible taxis... [U]ntil the judge approves the report, the city will be able to issue permits only for livery cabs that are wheelchair accessible." The city's lawyer, Robin Binder, said, "[We] are disappointed with the decision, and are considering the next steps to take in court in light of this ruling... We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision, because the ADA specifically exempts taxicabs from having to be wheelchair-accessible.
Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-NY), who has cerebral palsy and initiated the Department of Justice investigation, issued a statement, "Judge Daniels’ decision sends Mayor Bloomberg and his entire administration the clear message that the days of stranding people with disabilities on the curb are over. Now the City has no other option but to provide access to all New Yorkers, whether they are on two feet or four wheels."