New York just approved a new vehicle for use in the city's taxi fleet -- a wheelchair-accessible, Indiana-made MV-1. But riders will only have a few years to hail them before the city's non-accessible "Taxi of Tomorrow" becomes the only sanctioned model.
The vote, which happened at Thursday's Taxi and Limousine Commission meeting, came less than a week after the US Attorney's office weighed in on a lawsuit against the city and said that the lack of wheelchair-accessible cabs violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Disabled activists were on hand at the TLC meeting to testify in support of a rules change necessary to authorize the MV-1 -- and to talk about how difficult it is to hail a cab in the city. Jean Ryan with Disabled in Action said the lack of wheelchair-accessible cabs was frustrating.
"We can never see them, and the stickers are in the back," she said. "So they’ve passed us by the time we see that they’re accessible – if we ever see one. It’s like an Elvis sighting.”
City Council member Oliver Koppel was also there to support the rules change -- and to criticize New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said yesterday that it was too difficult for people in wheelchairs to hail taxis on the street in the first place, and that able-bodied people would feel uncomfortable in a wheelchair-accessible cab because "their suspension is much worse."
“I think the mayor’s concerns are totally off the wall,” Koppell said. He added that “37 members of City Council believe we should have an all-accessible fleet. The US Justice Department believes it. The governor apparently believes it, and it’s long past time for this commission to move in that direction.”
Currently, 231 of New York City's 13,237 taxi cabs are wheelchair accessible.
The MV-1 will retail for about $40,000. It weighs about 5,000 pounds and gets between 13 and 15 miles per gallon, depending on whether the engine uses compressed natural gas or regular fuel. No word yet on how many NYC medallion owners might be tempted to purchase one. But even if drivers take the plunge, they'll only be able to pilot it for a few more years. In May, the city awarded Nissan the contract for the Taxi of Tomorrow. The NV200 will begin to hit the streets by late 2013 and the Nissan will be the only cab in town by 2018. But the NV200 is not wheelchair accessible.
Assembly Member Micah Kellner, wearing a yellow and black button that said "Separate Is Not Equal," said at the TLC meeting: “I don’t care what the Taxi of Tomorrow is, because I think at the end of the day the Justice Department is going to decide that for us.”