The Justice Department said Thursday that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has failed to provide fair service to the disabled, and until it does, every new yellow cab in the city should be wheelchair accessible.
In a 23-page court filing, the federal government sided with four disabled-rights groups that filed a lawsuit in January. Assistant U.S. Attorney Natalie Kuehler said the Taxi and Limousine Commission must have “equivalent service” for disabled people—meaning all new cabs in the fleet are wheelchair accessible.
“The TLC must require that all new vehicles purchased or leased for use as taxicabs…are ‘readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs’,” Ms. Kuehler wrote.
As part of an ambitious attempt to remake the city’s taxi fleet, the TLC chose the Nissan NV200 as the city’s exclusive new cab model. But the vehicle isn’t wheelchair-accessible.
In a statement, David Yassky, the chairman of the TLC, called the lawsuit “misguided” because the commission was developing a new dispatch system that “will be in effect in less than six months and will provide for high-quality taxi service for all New Yorkers with disabilities.”
The TLC had asked U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels to give it until mid-2012, when the agency expects to have implemented a dispatch system for wheelchair-accessible cabs, and the state legislature to pass a bill to increase the number of taxi medallions for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
Currently, about 2% of New York City’s roughly 13,000 yellow taxis have equipment that allows wheelchair users to get in and out. The Justice Department said the likelihood of a nondisabled person hailing a cab within 10 minutes is 87%, compared with just 3% for a disabled person.
The Justice Department said the TLC has an important regulatory role in managing the taxi fleet and must take action to make more of the fleet is accessible. It isn’t enough, the department argued, for the city to say a dispatch system is in development to direct yellow taxis to customers.
The TLC “should not be allowed to continue to violate the [Americans with Disabilities Act] for an indeterminate amount of time based on their hope that the dispatch system will operate smoothly and the state legislature will pass a bill,” Ms. Kuehler wrote.
A number of groups advocating for the rights of the disabled —United Spinal, the Taxis for All Campaign, 504 Democratic Club, and Disabled in Action—filed a lawsuit against the TLC, alleging the taxi fleet violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recent moves to add more sport-utility vehicles and hybrid vehicles has only made the access problem worse, the suit charges.
The lawsuit’s supporters hailed the Justice Department’s move, saying it adds heft to the allegations.
State Assemblyman Micah Kellner of the Upper East Side, who asked the Justice Department to intervene, said, “I’m thrilled that the highest law-enforcement agency in the land has agreed with me and with so many wheelchair-using New Yorkers that they have a right to use one of New York City’s most iconic modes of transportation, taxis.”
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