New York City (NYC) disability advocates celebrated on Dec. 6. as the City agreed to a settlement to make half of all yellow taxis wheelchair accessible by the year 2020. At present only 231 of the 13,237 yellow cabs operating in NYC are accessible.
The settlement came in answer to a class-action suit brought in federal court in Jan. 2011 by a coalition that included the Taxis for All Campaign (TFAC), United Spinal Association, 504 Democratic Club and Disabled in Action. They were represented by Disability Rights Advocates and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.
The long-fought-battle, started in the late 1990s by advocates including Marvin Wasserman and Terry Moakley, has taken another step forward with this agreement, which is the first of its kind in the country.
The City has agreed to require taxi fleets to replace 50 percent of vehicles that go out of service with wheelchair accessible cabs. The agreement will go through a public-hearing and a rulemaking process and will be voted on by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). It will then go before the court for approval.
“It is my office’s goal to make New York City the most accessible and inclusive city in the world, and this landmark agreement significantly furthers this mission,” said MOPD Commissioner Victor Calise. “MOPD has worked side by side with City agencies and advocates to help make this historic day a reality. We are excited to see the results of this agreement and look forward to its implementation setting an example for the rest of the country to follow.”
“We’re overjoyed that the City has finally seen fit to treat us fairly,” said Edith Prentiss, chair of TFAC, now the named plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We believe this historic pact will soon make a huge difference for people who use wheelchairs not only here in New York City but across the country.”
“MTA is spending over 500 million per year on Access-A-Ride. Medicaid, the New York state Department of Social Services and the Health Department spend 200 million a year just in the five boroughs on taking people in wheelchairs to the doctor in privately operate ambulettes,” said Jim Weisman, United Spinal’s general counsel, who has been involved in New York City’s accessible transportation fight since the late 70s. “The average cost of Access-A-Ride is 66 dollars. When have you paid 66 dollars for a cab ride? This [agreement] will completely change the equation not only for people with disabilities but for taxpayers.”
According to TLC Commissioner and Chair David Yassky, one out of every two new taxis to hit the streets once the phasing begins will be accessible until the point when the entire fleet is at least 50 percent accessible.