City’s Billion Dollar Taxi Plan Gets Green Light From Governor

Governor Andrew Cuomo has agreed to sign Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial taxi legislation with some big tweaks.

The major change is accessibility.

Cuomo announced on Tuesday a compromise was reached expanding taxi service in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs, by allowing livery cabs to pick up street hails, and finally meeting his concerns about ensuring wheelchair accessibility.

Under the new agreement, 2,000 yellow medallions will be auctioned and all must be wheelchair accessible. 

The bill that passed earlier this year would have made available 1,500 medallions available with only 500 set aside as accessible.

"No one thought we'd get this home," the mayor at the press conference via telephone. "We never gave up and we never stopped making the case."

The legislation authorizing the sale of the medallions, which will generate $1 billion in revenue for the city, has been held up for weeks by Cuomo, who said the bill did not provide enough accessible cabs, and would be shot down in court.

The city is currently awaiting a federal court decision that alleges the Taxi and Limousine Commission discriminates against people in wheelchairs, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently, only about 2 percent out of the city’s fleet of more than 13,000 yellow cabs are accessible.

To address this, Tuesday’s agreement requires the city to propose a long range accessibility plan. The TLC must consult with disability groups and other stakeholders before submitting a Disabled Accessibility Plan. The proposal will then be open for public comment and be sent to the City Council, as well as the State Department of Transportation for approval.

(Photo: Governor Cuomo announces the deal in Albany. Karen DeWitt for WNYC)

As for permits for outer borough livery cabs, 18,000 permits will be made available over the next three years, and 20 percent of those cabs must be accessible. The city's original plan had called for 30,000 permits.

The city will be required to provide grants as an incentive, of up to $15,000, to help pay for the retrofitting of livery vehicles or to purchase new accessible cars.

The livery permits will cost $1500 to start, but then immediately become transferable medallions, something many livery drivers had pushed for.

Yellow medallion fleet owners have led industry opposition.

They’ve argued that allowing outer borough street hails will devalue their medallions. “[The plan] would also threaten the short and long term viability of the medallion asset that has provided economic opportunities for thousands.” Ron Sherman, president of T=the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, said in a statement. “We hope this new bill has the teeth to protect our industry and we will cooperate with the Governor to achieve this goal.”

TLC Commissioner David Yassky said the agreement "will bring first rate, legal taxi service to all five boroughs." He also attempted to avoid some questions that doubted the mayor’s record on promoting accessible taxi service

Disabled groups, including the Taxis for All Campaign applauded the announcement, happy to be the focus of the deal hammered out by the various political camps.

Chair Edith Prentiss said “This deal will mean that people who are disabled will have the same option as every other New Yorker: the ability to travel spontaneously, quickly and easily when they are going to their jobs, to school or just out for a night on the town.”

The agreement will be introduced as a chapter amendment in the next session legislature in 2012.