Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Great editorial from NY Daily News: Mayor Bloomberg must make the city's taxis 100% wheelchair-accessible

NY Daily News editorial:

On solid ground, the Justice Department has concluded the city's failure to introduce wheelchair-accessible cabs violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed court papers Thursday to notify Judge George Daniels that the government agrees with advocates for the disabled who have sued the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Pulling no punches, Bharara wrote that the TLC "should not be allowed to continue to violate the ADA."

He urged Daniels to order the commission to switch to vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs as cabs are retired and replaced with Mayor Bloomberg's so-called Taxi of Tomorrow.

Bharara's is the strongest statement to date on the city's responsibility to provide reasonably equal transportation to the handicapped. It's time for TLC Chairman David Yassky to set aside frivolities such as the color of off-duty roof lights and bring the fleet into compliance with federal law.

Basics of the taxi industry are now up in the air.

Bloomberg is pressing Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature to enable livery cars to pick up street hails in the boroughs and northern Manhattan - a plan opposed by the yellow cab industry. He has also picked a Nissan van that cannot handle wheelchairs as the city's universal cab for the future.

Cuomo is studying the livery and wheelchair issues. Bharara's finding should settle the latter for him. There are 13,237 yellow taxis; only 231 can accommodate a wheelchair. That's 1.7%, making the chance of hailing one almost impossible.

That tiny proportion clashes with the ADA's requirement of equality of access and cannot be remedied by a sketchy plan for a system of telephone-dispatched wheelchair-accessible cabs. What's more, federal standards mandate that vans must be accessible when they are employed as cabs.

Bharara got to the point, stating, "a ruling by this court now that the city is obligated to ensure that all new taxicabs are wheelchair-accessible is all the more important because it will likely have a significant impact on both the city's implementation of an accessible taxicab dispatch system and its selection of the vehicle that will become the 'Taxi of Tomorrow.'"

At its next meeting, on Thursday, the TLC is set to approve its first vehicle specifically designed to be a wheelchair-accessible taxi. Bloomberg should accept the inevitable and get with the program by moving to 100% accessibility.