On Dec. 30, a little more than a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an agreement to bring taxi service to the outer boroughs while making taxis and livery cars more accessible to the disabled, New York City quietly filed notice that it would appeal a federal court decision that imposed an even more stringent requirement for disability access.
On Dec. 23, U.S. District Judge George Daniels ruled that the city, because it regulates the taxi industry and does not require medallion owners to provide "meaningful" access to the wheelchair-bound, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As part of the decision, the judge called for "immediate and full compliance" with the A.D.A.
"The [Taxi and Limousine Commission] must propose a comprehensive plan to provide meaningful access to taxicab service for disabled wheelchair bound passengers," wrote Daniels. "Such a plan must include targeted goals and standards, as well as anticipated measurable results. Until such a plan is proposed and approved by this Court, all new taxi medallions sold or new street-hail livery licenses or permits issued by the TLC must be for wheelchair accessible vehicles."
In other words, New York City cannot sell any non-accessible outer-borough taxi permits until the judge says so.
In a sign that he may not consider the governor's accessibility plan, vague though it is, sufficient, the judge also said, in a footnote:
The recent legislation signed by Governor Cuomo providing for a greater number of wheelchair accessible taxicabs and livery cabs, and the TLC's proposed dispatch system may be steps towards providing meaningful access to the New York City taxicab system to disabled persons who require wheelchairs. However, meaningful access for the disabled to public transportation services is not a utopian goal or political promise, it is a basic civil right. Title II requires immediate and full compliance.
The city has requested a stay of the judge's order. He has yet to rule on its request. So as of now, it's still in effect. That means that even if the state legislature approves the grand compromise announced by Cuomo and Bloomberg last month, which it could do as early as this week, the city still won't be able to move forward with the bulk of its outer-borough taxi plan.
The judge's decision also means the accessibility of New York City's taxi and limousine system is now under two separate forms of oversight: the federal court's and the governor's. Not only must the Bloomberg administration present an accessibility plan to the judge, who must then approve it before the city's outer-borough taxi plans can be put into effect, but the administration must present a similar plan for approval to Governor Andrew Cuomo's department of transportation.
No major city in America has full accessibility.
The compromise announced by Cuomo and Bloomberg on Dec. 20 allows the city to create a new class of 18,000 outer-borough taxis: 14,400 non-accessible outer-borough taxis, and 3,600 accessible ones.
The compromise also allows the city to issue 2,000 regular taxi medallions, which sell for upward of $1 million each and would, theoretically, put more than $1 billion into the city coffers at a time when it is facing a substantial budget deficit.
However, the agreement reached with the governor comes with certain restrictions of its own: in the beginning, the city can sell a mere 400 of those regular yellow-taxi medallions. Only after the Bloomberg administration presents the governor with a plan to improve the overall taxi and limousine fleet's accessible, and the governor approves it, can New York City auction off the bulk of the medallions.
For his part, the judge will approve a plan based on how "meaningful" the access is that it provides. But what "meaningful access" means is kind of up in the air.
The city argues that a dispatch service it wants to set up, one that would allow people in wheelchairs to call 311 and thereby get prompt taxi service, provides meaningful access.
But some disability advocates contend the opposite.
"Meaningful is something that's not unduly burdensome," said Jim Weisman, general counsel for the United Spinal Association. "So in a hail-a-cab system, where it takes five minutes to get a cab, what's the equivalence to that? Is it an hour? Is it 20 minutes. I think an hour is burdensome, right? Everyone's threshold is going to be in a different place, but one thing everyone can agree on is if all taxis are accessible, it would be equivalent."
Originally published: Capital New York http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2012/01/5040152/bloomberg-challenges-broad-decision-mandating-meaningful-taxi-servi