Recently, I joined with disability-rights advocates and Riverdale Councilman Oliver Koppell and publicly rejected the Taxi of Tomorrow contract because the proposed new fleet will not be accessible to people in wheelchairs.
City Hall is forcing taxi companies to buy the so-called Taxi of Tomorrow, a non-accessible Nissan van.
In a bizarre, expensive and untested process, medallion owners who want to provide wheelchair-accessible service would have to buy the inaccessible Mexican-made van and have it shipped to Indiana in order to be cut up and retrofitted for accessibility.
For New York City’s wheelchair users, a group that numbers 60,000 and is growing, our taxi fleet is a separate and unequal system. Just 231 of our yellow cabs are accessible to individuals with certain disabilities. If you use a wheelchair, you have a less than a one-in-50 chance of finding a cab on the street that will take you.
So what does City Hall say to wheelchair users? It says they can make an appointment and wait for an Access-A-Ride — a separate and unequal transportation system that costs the city hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Meanwhile, the Taxis of Tomorrow of the new fleet will include sunroofs, fancy seats, and other amenities — with a smartphone app on the way.
The plan also exposes the city to financial risk. Were New Yorkers in wheelchairs to sue the taxi industry for operating inaccessible vans, fleet owners might in turn sue the city because it mandates that all new cabs be this single Nissan model.
What’s more, superstorm Sandy underscored that New York’s paucity of wheelchair-accessible taxis poses a grave risk that disabled individuals will not be able to evacuate safely. In fact, the U.S. District Court in Manhattan recently set for trial a class-action lawsuit alleging that the city’s disaster planning unlawfully fails to provide adequately for persons with disabilities, in part because of the lack of wheelchair-accessible taxis.
In short, the city’s plan is expensive, discriminatory and legally questionable.
As Comptroller, it’s my job to oversee city contracts and I rejected the contract authorizing this lemon.
John C. Liu is New York City Comptroller and probable mayoral candidate.