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COMMISSIONER'S COLUMN

November 2011

I’d like to call your attention to the lawsuit brought by a group of disability rights advocates who interpret the Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA) as saying that all taxicabs must be wheelchair accessible vehicles.  Last week, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed papers supporting the lawsuit, bringing a new level of visibility to the case.

Let me say at the outset that I flatly disagree with the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the ADA.  By its own terms, the ADA applies only to those who “operate a transportation system.”  The TLC, of course, does not.  We regulate the taxi industry, but we do not operate it.  The plaintiffs’ theory of the case is simply inconsistent with the very plain language of the ADA.

Having said that, I also want to state clearly that the taxicab industry needs to do more – much more – to serve the needs of persons with disabilities.  We took bold first steps with the addition of 231 wheelchair accessible taxicabs, but this number is too few, and at present there is no practical way to ensure that these cabs are serving the people who need them.  We have a bill in Albany that has passed both the State Senate and Assembly and now awaits the governor’s signature that would add hundreds more medallions for wheelchair accessible vehicles.  We are also deep into the process of creating an innovative dispatch system that would match accessible taxicabs and for-hire vehicles with the people who need them via the 311 government hotline number.   Of necessity, this system will be supported by fees from the taxi and for-hire industries…..it’s the price we must pay for equality.

While we firmly believe that our interpretation of the ADA is the correct one, we cannot ignore the possibility that a court order will at some point require a significant portion of the taxi fleet to convert to accessible vehicles.  For this reason, we are working to make sure that the industry has options.  Our partners on the Taxi of Tomorrow project, Nissan North America, has committed to ensuring that its vehicle is suitable for retrofitting, and to designating a qualified upfitter.  Another option is the Vehicle Production Group’s accessible taxicab model, the MV-1, which was approved at our most recent public meeting.  We have not yet seen this vehicle face the rigors of taxicab service, but we are cautiously optimistic that it will perform well.

Finally, it may be that the taxi industry’s leaders have themselves decided that the time has come for a wheelchair accessible fleet.  The City’s attorneys have asked the major trade associations to join the suit and they have declined.   Some industry leaders recently funded TV ads calling for greater accessibility for wheelchair users.  Over the coming weeks, the TLC will be reaching out to industry leadership to discuss the feasibility of making the fleet accessible even without a court order, and we’ll be deciding on options for doing so.  As always, we seek your feedback.

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