New York's Ambitious Taxi Plans Calls for More $$

One of the approximately 200 wheelchair accessible cabs in the city. (photo by Kate Hinds/WNYC)

(New York, NY -- Kathleen Horan, WNYC)  Sometime in the fall, many more New York cabs will be wheelchair accessible, and it will be much easier to hail a cab in northern Manhattan, and in the other four boroughs.  New York City will also start collecting on what it hopes will be $1 billion in revenue from the new medallions sold.

But multiple layers and flaming hoops lie ahead.

There's the $20 million the Taxi and Limousine Commission will need to pay for grants to make cars wheelchair accessible -- a full third of its $60 million budget.

At the City Council Transportation Committee budget hearings on Tuesday, Commissioner David Yassky testified that it’s still unclear whether the grants will be distributed up front or if they’d be spaced out.

Yassky added “There’s a big difference between a $1000 dollar grant on day one and then $14,000 a few years from now-- versus $15,000 up front.”

The Bloomberg administration’s 5 Borough Taxi Plan calls for the sale of 18,000 HAIL licenses or permits over the next 3 years. 20% are required to be accessible. The first 6000 are scheduled to be sold this June.

Yassky said that the HAIL licenses will be sold on a first come, first serve basis.

But only licensed for-hire vehicle operators in good standing will be able to purchase them.

The Commissioner is standing by the Mayor’s and his agency’s estimate that the yellow medallion auction, also scheduled in the upcoming budget, would bring in a billion dollars in city revenue. At the hearing, some council members expressed concerns if that was realistic.

But the city has its work cut out for it. The TLC has to re-write existing rules, and go through the required public comment period before putting the HAIL permits up for sale. After that, it's legally permitted by the state to start selling medallions. Even then, only 400 can be auctioned. After the initial sale, the city must submit its long term accessibility plan to the State Department of Transportation for approval before moving forward with the rest of the auction.

Then there’s the pending federal lawsuit.  A judge ruled in December that the TLC must assure that its providing meaningful access to wheelchair bound New Yorkers. The city is appealing that decision but Yassky conceded that sometimes it's prudent to spend more money than policy dictates.

“If down the line you see us spending money and you say its not worth that level of expenditure—I would say to you that we also have the courts to worry about.”