NYC Accessible Taxi Update–Our Day in Court

United Spinal Association and other plaintiffs represented by Sid Wolinsky, Esq., Disability Rights Advocates, were in court on November 22 against New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) and Mayor Bloomberg.

As you may know, we sued the City because only 1.7% of yellow cabs are accessible.  The TLC controls the design of the cabs and refuses to require access even in its “Taxi of Tomorrow.”  The TLC’s Taxi of Tomorrow competition winner was Nissan, a company that submitted an inaccessible design.

The City lost the motion to dismiss our case last June.  Since then the US Justice Department (DOJ), in the form of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has filed a Statement of Interest in the case supporting our position.  This extremely rare action by DOJ did not intimidate the Mayor.  He went on the radio and made one boneheaded remark after another, including, “It’s dangerous for people in wheelchairs to be in the streets of New York City,” and “. . . they will sit too far from the driver to establish a dialogue and therefore will leave small tips.”

Judge George Daniels heard our Motion for Summary Judgment, as well as the City’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment a few days ago.  Judge Daniels treated our attorney well.  However, he gave both the US Attorney and the City’s attorney a much harder time.  The US Attorney, in supporting our position, argued that the TLC exercises so much control over the taxi system that it acts as an “operator” of the system and US Department of Transportation (USDOT) ADA regulations pertaining to local governmental entities that operate demand-responsive systems should apply to the TLC.  The TLC argued it operates nothing – i.e., it merely licenses, permits and regulates taxis and its non-discrimination obligation under ADA does not pertain to taxi passengers, only to those it licenses.

 The judge had difficulty accepting the City’s position that the TLC was free to discriminate against wheelchair-using passengers, at least in so far as the ADA is concerned, and some difficulty in accepting the US Attorney’s position that the TLC operates the taxi system, perhaps because he was afraid that his ruling might mean that most taxis in most cities had to be accessible, since they are licensed by a local governmental entity.  There was much discussion between the judge and the US Attorney about the unique nature of NYC’s TLC.  It controls models, design, color, service areas, fares, equipment and everything else an operator of a taxi system might control, unlike regulatory agencies in other cities.

The City, through its attorney, promised a dispatch service beginning in March 2012.  Remember, the City failed miserably on its last attempt to dispatch accessible taxis, a program that was discontinued almost 2 years ago and not replaced.

The curious thing about the City’s position is why it wants to operate a dispatch system at all.  Remember NYC’s yellow cab system is “hail” only – i.e., passengers cannot call to reserve a yellow cab ride; they must come out on the streets of Manhattan or at the airports and hail a taxi.  If all new taxis were accessible, the hail system would be accessible and the City would play no role in providing rides to those with mobility impairments.  Instead, the Bloomberg Administration would deny access and create a new headache for itself — running a dispatch program and ensuring its effectiveness, something wheelchair users have not requested.

Judge Daniels promised a decision before Christmas therefore, we may have a merry one.

 

James Weisman
SVP & General Counsel
United Spinal Association