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.
A federal appeals court ruled the city does not have to ensure that all licensed taxies are wheelchair-accessible – meaning the city does not have to overhaul its taxi fleet.
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that although the Taxi and Limousine Commission has extensive regulatory powers, the agency itself has “no authority to provide public transportation.”
That’s exactly what lawyers for the city had argued in the class action suit brought against the TLC by advocacy groups, which took issue with the Nissan model’s inaccessibility to people in wheelchairs.
Responding to the decision, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said “this is consistent with common sense and the practical needs of both the taxi industry and the disabled and we will continue to assist with our efforts to assist disabled riders.”
But Disability Rights Advocates’ attorney Sid Wolinsky, who has represented some of the plaintiffs in the case, believes the mayor is being disingenuous.
“The Bloomberg administration has been astonishingly hostile to people with disabilities”, said Wolinsky. “The notion that New York City would now have a taxi fleet that is mostly not accessible when cities like London have had a 100 percent accessible fleet for over a decade is pretty shameful.”
The TLC has said it’s hard at work on an accessible dispatch system and intends to auction 2,000 accessible medallions in the next auction.
Wolinsky said his group could still ultimately win the lawsuit through other arguments that weren't addressed in the appeals court ruling. But the city's disabled residents will suffer in the interim, he said.
If the lawsuit against the TLC does continue, it could potentially hold up the pending contract the city has with Nissan to provide the NV2000 to replace the current taxi models, beginning next year. The vehicle must be retrofitted to fit wheelchairs. The contract itself has yet to be signed.