Kathleen Horan, Reporter, WNYC News
Kathleen Horan is a staff reporter for New York Public Radio, covering the neighborhood beat. She also reports 'Reset', an ongoing series documenting police-community relations in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Attorneys for the disabled faced off against attorneys for the city in a court hearing on Tuesday over the lack of wheelchair-accessible cabs.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, as well as the Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District, argued that the city is in violation of the law — the Americans with Disabilities Act — since it runs a public transportation system, yet only 2 percent of cabs in the city can accommodate people in wheelchairs.
Simi Linton of Manhattan was one of a dozen disabled New Yorkers attending the hearing. "I feel optimistic that the judge understood the depth and the reach of the kind of discrimination that disabled people face daily."
The city contends it's not violating the law because it doesn't operate the cabs themselves, drivers do.
But Federal Judge George Daniels repeatedly challenged the city’s attorney, Robin Binder, about whether New York City is responsible to do more, and if it is what it plans to do in regards to providing “meaningful access” to disabled passengers. Daniels said, “If it is your legal obligation, there is no dispute you’re not meeting that obligation.”
The Taxi and Limousine Commission has said it’s currently developing a system where disabled riders can order a wheel-chair accessible cab from a dispatcher. It should be operational by next spring.
One of the plaintiffs, Christopher Noel, said that plan doesn't cut it. "The TLC is basically saying that we'll come up with a system eventually, and then we'll get to you, but for now we'll just pick up everyone else and then we'll get to everyone else. It hurt me when I heard their argument," he said.
Judge Daniels said he’ll rule on the case by Christmas.
Before he concluded the hearing, Daniels warned the city that if he determines the city has an obligation to do more for accessible passengers, then it will have to be armed with remedies immediately, not in the future
Plaintiffs in the case are asking that as taxis are retired over the next 3-5 years, all new cabs be accessible models. The Nissan NV 200, the model chosen by the city to be the “Taxi of Tomorrow” has to be retrofitted to fit wheelchairs.
Industry opponents argue requiring 100 percent accessibility isn't feasible and is too expensive.