After examining hundreds of complaints from disabled passengers, the Department of Transportation is fining US Airways $1.2 million for "egregious violations" at airports in Philadelphia and Charlotte.
(Alec Hamilton -- New York, NY, WNYC) One month after the city launched a program to let disabled passengers use cellphones to hail a taxi, some riders say there aren't enough available cabs.
The Accessible Dispatch program allows riders to use phone, text or app to summon one of the city's wheelchair-accessible taxis. There are over 13,000 yellow cabs in New York City, but only 233 of them have ramps.
Anne Davis is on the board of the Center for Independence of the Disabled. She said when demand is low the service is pretty good, but as the day progresses delays tend to grow. "Sometimes you can get a taxi within minutes," she said, "(but) one of my friends waited two and a half hours in the rain. The major problem with the system is that there aren't enough taxis."
According to the program's website, "if the closest available taxi does not accept the job within 120 seconds, the job request automatically jumps to the next closest available cab — and so on, until the job is accepted by a driver."
NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman David Yassky said an effort to put another 2,000 accessible cabs on the streets is currently held up in court as part of the five-borough taxi plan. But he said service has improved.
"We're getting somebody a wheelchair accessible taxi in average of about 20-25 minutes," said Yassky. "We've never done that before. That's really good."
The system is operated by Connecticut-based Metro Taxi and uses GPS to locate and dispatch the nearest accessible cab. Rides must originate in Manhattan.
Comptroller John Liu further complicated the New York City’s "Taxi of Tomorrow" project Wednesday by saying he wouldn’t approve the city’s contract with Nissan because the vehicle selected isn’t wheelchair accessible.
Surrounded by other elected officals and advocates for the disabled, Liu said he believed the contract ‘as is’ violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.
But Liu, who is under an ethical cloud for campaign finance violations, may not be able to reject the contract outright. Liu's campaign treasurer and a fundraiser have been indicted for using "straw donors" to circumvent city camapaign finance rules.
Kate O’Brien, spokeswoman with the City Law Department, said, “the law limits the issues upon which the Comptroller may refuse to register a contract. None of the matters raised, including ADA compliance, would constitute lawful grounds for refusing to do so.”
The city chose Nissan to be the single provider of yellow taxis for the next decade beginning in 2013. The new cabs will be rolled out as older cabs are retired.
The Nissan NV 200 has transparent roofs, USB chargers and extra legroom. However, even though it’s a mini-van, it isn't accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Liu said “requiring cabs to have independent climate controls is nice but when you fail to make them accessible to a growing number of New Yorkers, it’s not just a slap in the face, its illegal.”
Taxi and Limousine Commssion spokesperson Allan Fromberg called Liu’s objection to the contact “mysterious and ill-informed.” He said, “Nissan is providing a wheelchair accessible version of the Taxi of Tomorrow, the city will create an additional 2,000 wheelchair accessible medallion licenses and they’re on the cusp of launching a demand responsive wheelchair accessible taxi dispatch system.”
Disabled groups sued the city over the Taxi of Tomorrow, and in 2011, a federal court ruled that the city, through the Taxi and Limousine Commission, violated ADA because it failed to provide passengers in wheelchairs meaningful access to taxis. But an appeals court has allowed the city to put new taxis on the street without complying with the lower’s court’s order.
Currently, only 2 percent of the city’s taxi fleet is wheelchair accessible.
Attorney James Weissman with United Spinal Association, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit against the Taxi of Tomorrow, rejected the notion that a dispatch system will provide “meaningful access” to cabs for the estimated 60,000 New Yorkers in wheelchairs. He noted that a separate system just for people with disabilities is a classic violation of civil rights.
“If it was any other protected class would we even question whether or not this was a shameful practice?” he asked. “What if we were running a separate system –substitute any other protected class…women have to take a separate system, blacks have to take a separate system – they can’t get in the same cabs…it doesn’t pass the smell test.”
By taking on the taxi issue, the embattled comptroller isn’t only taking on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg He’s going head-to-head with TLC Commissioner David Yassky—his rival in the 2009 runoff for the office of Comptroller—an office many political insiders believe Yassky would make a run for again.
(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.
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.”