Liu calls ‘Taxi of Tomorrow’ discriminatory against disabled

December 17, 2012 Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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City Comptroller John C. Liu on Friday said he was rejecting the so-called “Taxi of Tomorrow” contract, writing to Mayor Bloomberg that the mini-vans may violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“City Hall’s refusal to provide wheelchair-accessible cabs to people with disabilities is inexplicable and we believe it violates the ADA,” Liu said, pointing out that Superstorm Sandy showed that wheelchair access to taxis could sometimes be “life and death.”

Responding to Liu’s criticism, Mayor Bloomberg said on his weekly WOR radio show on Friday, “We can go ahead and do it anyways, which we will,” according to The city charter allows the mayor to override objections to contracts.

The New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), chaired by ex-Brooklyn Councilman David Yassky officially approved regulations in September requiring the replacement of retired taxicabs with the Nissan NV200.

The Nissan minivan would hold luggage for four passengers and features a transparent roof panel, sliding doors, USB charging, a passenger-controlled AC/ heater, an odor-reducing interior and rear seat lighting. But it would not be accessible by wheelchair.

Only about two percent of the city’s taxis are wheelchair-accessible, according to advocacy group Taxis for All.

In June, a federal appeals court ruled that the city’s current taxi regulations didn’t violate the ADA, but the court didn’t rule specifically on the city’s new cabs.

A number of Brooklyn officials called for the taxi deal to “go back to the drawing board,” including Council Member Jumaane Williams, who said that the Mayor had blown it by rejecting a Turkish company’s bid to build a wheelchair-accessible taxi in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

 “Mayor Bloomberg had an opportunity to approve of an agreement with a company that would have built 100 percent ADA-compliant vehicles in the borough of Brooklyn with homegrown labor. Instead, he opted for a plan that disadvantages the already disadvantaged in our city,” Williams said in a statement.

“It also fails to address the exorbitant costs we pay for Access-a-Ride and ambulette services, which could be mitigated by a fleet of wheelchair-accessible taxis.”

Council Member Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) added, “Instead of retrofitting taxis, we should seek a model that is already wheelchair-accessible.

Brooklyn Council Member Sara M. González said, “People with disabilities face unreasonable obstacles when their transportation needs are limited to pre-scheduled arrangements whether their destinations are related to employment, medical, scholastic or social concerns.” She pointed out that other major cities, like London, have a 100 percent accessible fleet.

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