New legal action filed against NYC taxi program

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In the latest challenge to New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow initiative, Disability Rights Advocates filed a motion in federal court August 28, arguing that the city’s planned new taxis are vans, not taxis, and thus subject to more stringent accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Yellow Van

Subject to ADA?

“Vans are…able to easily be made accessible to wheelchair users and were routinely made accessible at the time of passage of the ADA,” the lawsuit states. “By requiring that new vans put into service to provide public transportation be made accessible to wheelchair users the ADA did exactly what the ADA does so well – it struck a compromise which vastly increased the opportunities for men, women and children with disabilities without overly burdening business interests.”

For the past couple of years, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has been attempting to overhaul its fleet of yellow cab taxis, in what it calls the Taxi of Tomorrow Initiative. When the city announced that its new taxi, Nissan’s NV200, would not be accessible to wheelchairs, a group of disability rights organization sued the city in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In a first-of-its kind decision, the court ruled in December 2011 that the city was denying people with disabilities “meaningful access” to the city’s taxi fleet in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, even though taxis are specifically exempt from the law’s transportation accessibility requirements.

However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the decision in June 2012, finding that Taxi and Limousine Commission was not obligated under the ADA to license more wheelchair accessible taxis.

Disability rights groups, however, have continued to try to work with the city to increase taxi accessibility. In the current fleet, just 231 of its 13,237 vehicles contain ramps, lifts or other tools making them wheelchair accessible.

If the vehicles are found to actually be vans, however, the city will be forced to make them disability accessibility under the ADA.

The motion states that the van is commonly characterized as a van, been marketed as a van, and even won awards under this vehicle category.

“Classifying the NV200 as a van is the only statutory interpretation that is consistent with the purposes of, the ADA,” the lawsuit states. “A yellow paint job, changing the seat configuration, and adding a special meter and lights does not magically transform the NV200. The NV200 Taxi remains an NV200 in every essential way that qualifies it as a van.”

In December 2011, Mayor Bloomberg, who has routinely criticized the efforts to make the yellow cabs more accessible, reached an agreement with Governor Andrew Cuomo to make 20 percent of a new class of 18,000 livery cabs – non yellow cab taxis that normally serve the city’s outer boroughs – be wheelchair accessible.

Joining DRA in the lawsuit are Taxis for All Campaign, United Spinal Association, 504 Democratic Club and Disabled in Action.