Thursday, May 19, 2011

Disability rights group sues NY City taxi commission over inaccessible cabs

From amNew York:

A leading U.S. disability-rights group is suing the Taxi and Limousine Commission to put the brakes on the Nissan minivan heralded as the “taxi of tomorrow,” amNewYork has learned.

Disability Rights Advocates, in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, argues that choosing the Nissan NV200 – which cannot accommodate wheelchairs - as the standard taxi cab of NYC violates city law as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The group wants an injunction to halt the order of the vehicles, which are to start appearing on city streets in 2013 and will eventually number more than 13,000.

The failure to make accessibility a mandatory part of the design-competition specifications was “a profoundly mean-spirited and unwise decision,” said Sid Wolinsky, director of litigation for the group.

“London has a completely accessible taxi-cab fleet,” and the medallion competition represented “an extraordinary opportunity for the city of New York to have a win-win,” he said.

The city rejects arguments that the new yellows cabs violate the law, and will appear in U.S. District Court in Manhattan Tuesday to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

“No federal or local law requires that taxicabs be accessible to people with wheelchairs, and in fact, the ADA specifically exempts taxicabs from the requirement,” said Connie Pankratz, deputy communications director for the New York City Law Department.

The advocacy group contends the exemption is only for private car services, and doesn’t apply to vans such as the Nissan NV200.

The group says it filed the suit only after unsuccessfully trying to meet with TLC officials, an offer they say was rebuffed.

TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg rejected that characterization.

The city has some 60,000 wheelchair users, and an unknown number of tourists and business travelers who also rely on personal wheels.

They already face considerable obstacles in New York, because 75 percent of the subway stops are inaccessible, Wolinsky said. Most galling, he continued, is that the same Nissan van chosen by the city “comes in a version with a ramp that is fully accessible.”

That version costs about $14,000 more per car, said Fromberg. The cars now cost $29,000 each.

Fromberg added that the city will be implementing a system whereby disabled people can call 311 at any time and request a wheelchair-accessible taxi. (About 1.8 percent of the current fleet is accessible.)

Calling and waiting a half hour or more is not an equivalent service, complained Goldie Willoughby, 53, of Roosevelt Island, a lawyer who uses a wheelchair: “Look at all the problems they have with Access-A-Ride! It’s slow and unreliable. We want to be able to hail a cab just like anyone else.”