By Jim Weisman, General Counsel, United Spinal Association 


Yellow taxis on the road in New York City, USA

Caption: Yellow taxis on the road in New York City, USA


Since United Spinal Association and other New York City disability organizations settled a class action lawsuit with the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) over a decade ago to make at least 50% of their yellow taxis wheelchair accessible, a series of Commissioners have attempted to implement, modify, undermine, and now, knowingly violate the settlement agreement.


After fighting accessible taxis all the way to the tail end of his 12 years in office, Mayor Bloomberg agreed to make half of New York’s fleet of yellow cabs accessible by 2020. Remember: both Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor de Blasio ratified the agreement. Presumably, they had both checked with the TLC to make sure it was implementable. In any event, both mayors signed off.


TLC experts, together with Mayor Bloomberg, parroted the false claim that wheelchair users threatened the viability of the taxi industry. As a result, the TLC was busy protecting yellow cabs from our movement, while rideshare companies were the ones actually decimating the taxi industry.

Jim Weisman

The TLC let it happen. Medallion owners saw medallion values plummet. Many yellow cabs bearing medallions are no longer on the road. But this of course is not the fault of wheelchair users. The TLC failed to protect medallion holders and the industry, and rein in the growth of the rideshares until it was too late.


TLC experts also picked the inaccessible Nissan NV200 as the winner of the Taxi of Tomorrow contest. The gas-powered vehicle had to be expensively retrofitted for accessibility after it left the factory, but before it hit the street, to comply with the settlement Agreement reached with Bloomberg-era TLC.


In 2020, disability advocates voluntarily renegotiated the settlement agreement, extending the time frame to meet 50% accessibility to 2023, a date again agreed upon by TLC experts. Despite these concessions, the TLC did not meet the terms of the agreement.


Now, the TLC is trying to find an “out,” arguing that the increase in the number of accessible rideshares and 32% accessible yellow cabs (which it refers to as “substantial compliance”) excuses its need to comply with an agreement it renegotiated only a few years ago. We need to counter their arguments with action.


No other city in the United States has as many accessible cabs as New York City. We are proud of that. Disembark at Penn Station or arrive at one of our airports in a wheelchair, and an accessible taxi ride makes the impossible possible. If you travel to other major cities in a wheelchair, it is almost impossible to travel like everyone else, even after days of planning. But there is more work to be done in NYC.


Accessible transportation should be standardized, not rare and difficult to use. The disability community gave up continuing to litigate for access to 100% of all yellow cabs and settled to gain access to at least 50%. Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, where are you? As TLC Commissioner, your commitment to access distinguished you from your predecessors and successors, and we need your support. Wheelchair users need equal access now.