Thursday, January 13, 2011

Class action lawsuit filed against NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission for failure to provide wheelchair-accessible taxis

From Disability Rights Associates:

NEW YORK N.Y. – A class action lawsuit filed Jan. 13 in Federal District Court in the Southern District of New York alleges that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) violates applicable Federal and City law by failing to provide yellow taxis that men, women, and children who use wheelchairs are able to access. The suit is the first of its kind in the country.

The suit is significant, in part, because the TLC is on the verge of selecting a new model for New York’s entire fleet of taxis. The taxi fleet will start to be replaced with the new model during the next two years.

If the TLC fails to choose an accessible taxi, men, women, and children who use wheelchairs will, for the next decade, continue to be unable to access New York taxis.

New York City has more taxis than any city in America. Yet only around 200 (1.8%) of the 13,237 taxis are accessible to people who use wheelchairs, and any at given time only a fraction of the accessible taxis are on the road.

The suit is brought by a coalition of individuals and organizations including: United Spinal Association, 504 Democratic Club, Taxis for All Campaign, and Disabled In Action. All these organizations advocate on behalf of people with disabilities and each has been lobbying for an accessible taxi fleet for years.

The lawsuit seeks no damages. Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates, which is a non-profit organization that specializes in impact litigation on behalf of people with disabilities. Plaintiffs are also represented by Outten & Golden, which is a leader in individual and class action employment discrimination litigation in New York City.

“The lack of accessible taxis means that men, women, children, and the elderly who use wheelchairs are excluded from participating in the city community and deprived of utilizing this vital mode of transportation,” says James Weisman, United Spinal Association senior vice president and general counsel.

“Not being able to use taxis limits the jobs that people who use wheelchairs can take. It limits the social events they can attend,” Plaintiffs’ attorney, Julia Pinover, from Disability Rights Advocates’ New York office said. She continued “New York experiences extreme and hazardous weather conditions. It leaves vulnerable populations such as people with disabilities and the elderly out in the cold, snow, or rain for intolerable periods of time. TLC’s failure to make its taxi fleet accessible is shameful and unnecessary.”

Chris Noel, who is an individual plaintiff, said, “I have been using a wheelchair for almost ten years. I remember how easy it was for me to hail a cab when I was not using my wheelchair. But now, because there are so few taxis I can use, I often wait for an hour or more before an accessible taxi even passes me.” Jean Ryan of organizational Plaintiff Disabled In Action echoed this sentiment saying “I used to be able to get a taxi before I used a wheel chair. Now, forget about it.”

Plaintiff Simi Linton, Ph.D., is a lifelong New Yorker and power wheelchair user who works primarily in New York City. Dr. Linton said, “New York City needs a taxi system that is accessible for all its citizens, including people with disabilities. On a recent trip to London, I was able to use any of London’s taxis. I was able to get around that city independently and with dignity. London’s fully accessible taxis should be a model for New York City.”

“This is a golden opportunity for the TLC to transition the taxi fleet to an accessible car model with minimal administrative burden and at minimal cost to drivers and medallion holders”, said Edith Prentiss of the Plaintiff organization the Taxis for All Campaign. “If this transition is not implemented now, it would be a disaster.”