Assembly Member Micah Kellner: 'Taxi of Tomorrow' Is the 'Cathie Black' of Cabs (UPDATE)

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New York's Taxi of Tomorrow, said to be a big step up from the Crown Vic fleet circulating the city, might be so yesterday.

That's because embattled mayoral candidate/ Comptroller John Liu, who has become very vocal on a variety of issues as his campaign progresses, will not ink the agreement unless the cabs are wheelchair accessible. Other local pols have banded behind him.

Liu said at a press conference today that New York must take after cities such as London, and that Mayor Michael Bloomberg botched an opportunity to right a wrong "that New Yorkers with disabilities have been fighting to achieve for nearly two decades." (Note: The Voice didn't attend, but was provided with participants' comments.)

He also claimed the future taxi currently presents legal challenges, saying: "Requiring cabs to have independent passenger climate controls is nice, but when you fail to make them accessible to a growing number of New Yorkers, it's not just a slap in the face, it's illegal. We will send back any plan that does not uphold the civil rights demanded by the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Things then got a bit, er...well, you'll see!

"With the Taxi of Tomorrow, Mayor Bloomberg had the opportunity to transform the way New Yorkers get around the city whether they're on two feet or four wheels," Assembly Member Micah Kellner said.

"Sadly, his choice for the Taxi of Tomorrow -- the Nissan NV-200 -- will be remembered as the Cathy[sic] Black of taxis. The Mayor should scrap his contract with Nissan and commit to making every taxi accessible to people with disabilities."

Ouch!

Added City Councilmember Oliver Koppell: "The Taxi of Tomorrow contract should be rejected...The contract includes terms that, in my view, violate the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The City has a responsibility to come down on the side of civil rights."

Now, this isn't the first time that city taxis have gotten criticized for accessibility. Of the 13,000 yellow cabs circulating, 231 are wheelchair accessible. Because the City regulates medallion sales, it's largely responsible for this. The issue has also come up during discussions of Bloomberg's polemic boro taxi plan.

UPDATE: The Taxi and Limousine Commission had this to say:

"The Comptroller's actions today are both mysterious and clearly ill-informed.  First, the TLC is in full compliance with ADA, and will remain in compliance.  The District Court ruling has been stayed and is on appeal, and we will comply with all judicial rulings.  But that said, it's a simple fact that we've made more progress on wheelchair accessible transportation options in the past year than anyone has in the last three decades. 

Nissan is producing a wheelchair accessible version of the NV200 Taxi of Tomorrow, the City will create an additional 2,000 wheelchair accessible medallion licenses, we're on the cusp of launching a demand responsive wheelchair accessible taxi dispatch system, and a full 20% of all the new Boro Taxis will be wheelchair accessible.  The TLC has also greatly incentivized the purchase of accessible vehicles by adding several years to their mandatory retirement age, and subsidizing the cost of accessible Boro Taxis by $15,000 per vehicle, on top of a $10,000 State tax credit.

Lastly, in response to our years of challenging taxi fleets to do more to facilitate service to wheelchair users, it was a common complaint of those fleets that there were no viable wheelchair accessible vehicles for them to use, but now the TLC has approved the MV1, and has an accessible NV200 on the way and we are strongly encouraging them to make use of these new options."

Added the New York City Law Department:

"While the Comptroller and the others who participated in his press event today are free to espouse their policy position, Comptroller Liu may not ignore his responsibilities under the New York City Charter to further these positions.  Unfortunately, he's proposing to do just that.  The law limits the issues upon which the Comptroller can refuse to register a contract.  None of the matters he raised today -- including ADA compliance -- would constitute lawful grounds for refusing to do so."

Copied and pasted below is Liu's letter to the mayor.

Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg

Mayor

City Hall

New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

The New York City Charter ("Charter") requires that all contracts or agreements executed pursuant to the Charter or other laws are registered by the New York City Comptroller's Office ("Comptroller's Office"). The Comptroller's Office understands that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission ("TLC") and Nissan have entered into a contract to provide the "Taxi of Tomorrow" for use on New York City streets by taxi medallion owners.

On December 23, 2011 a federal court held that the City, through TLC, was in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), which prohibits discrimination in governmental activities. The court further held that TLC was not providing meaningful taxicab access to disabled people who required wheelchairs, and that the lack of access was a direct result of TLC's pervasive policies, practices, and regulations of taxicabs in the City.

The court also required TLC to propose a comprehensive plan describing how it would provide meaningful access to wheelchair users, including targeted goals and standards, as well as measurable results. The court further ordered that until TLC proposed such a plan, all new taxi medallions sold must be for wheelchair accessible vehicles. It should be noted that "meaningful access" was defined, not as a Utopian goal or a political promise, but as a basic civil right for those with disabilities.

Moreover, the United States Department of Transportation has mandated that vans seating less than eight people are required to be accessible. The "Taxi of Tomorrow" does not meet this requirement.

Based on the TLC's website, the "Taxi of Tomorrow" design lists a number of features; however, wheelchair accessibility is not one of them. We understand that the City is cobbling together a dispatch system and a plan to retrofit Nissan NV200 taxicabs to make them wheelchair accessible in an attempt to comply with the federal court ruling. However, without a comprehensive plan to provide meaningful access it is clear that any contract to provide a "Taxi of Tomorrow" that is not accessible to the estimated 60,000 New Yorkers who use wheelchairs would violate the ADA and the federal court's decision.

The City should take immediate steps to modify the contract so that the entire "Taxi of Tomorrow" fleet is wheelchair accessible. New York City ought to be a leader, not a follower, on this important civil rights issue.

Sincerely,

John C. Liu


Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.



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