About 45 minutes into the almost four-hour long City Council hearing on accessible taxis, before many of the New Yorkers in wheelchairs had even testified, there was a clear winner.
“I feel filleted,” New York City’s taxi commissioner said after answering the final question asked of him by an energetic Councilman Oliver Koppell.
After giving short testimony of his own and then listening to Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky explain the Bloomberg Administration’s opposition to the legislation, Mr. Koppell ripped into arguments that an accessible fleet was too costly and unfeasible.
Mr. Koppell was defending a bill he had introduced an earlier version of in 2010. The bill never made it to the Council floor for a vote. And while it sat on the shelf, the city went ahead with its “Taxi of Tomorrow” model, a Nissan NV 200, which is not wheelchair-accessible.
To force a vote, Mr. Koppell, for the first time in 12 years in the Council, invoked a rare sponsor’s privilege to force action, beginning with the April 18 hearing.
“This is a civil rights issue,” Mr. Koppell said in his testimony, echoing what he said at a City Hall rally preceding the hearing.
Mr. Koppell noted that he was forced to take action because the Speaker would not bring the bill to the floor for a vote despite the legislation’s 37 co-sponsors and its veto-proof majority.
“Democracy demands that measures that have broad support at the very least get brought to a vote,” he said.
Cost was at the heart of arguments against an accessible fleet. Nissan has an accessible model that costs about $14,000 more than the one chosen.
Mr. Yassky argued that the increased cost would be handed down to private taxi companies and drivers, and that it could result in fare increases.
Mr. Koppell argued that an additional cost would not substantially increase the cost of doing business. A medallion alone costs $1 million and the price of a vehicle is a small percentage of overall taxi operating costs. The Taxi Commission has estimated the additional cost per ride would be a maximum of 2 percent, or about 16 cents for an $8 fare.