(New York, NY -- Kathleen Horan, WNYC) 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 New York City is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying it runs a public transportation system -- yet only two 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," she said.
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 what it plans to do to provide “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 wheelchair- 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," he said. "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 few 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.