Hailing Accessibility

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Spend some time trying to navigate traffic in Manhattan and you’ll know why New York City is home to 13,237 branded Yellow Cabs. It’s a grid best navigated by a professional. And the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which owns the fleet, takes pride in the quantity and quality of its vehicles. Take its new line of Nissan NV200 minivans. Dubbed the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” they are required to have custom climate controls for each seat, a transparent roof so patrons can enjoy city views, and laptop power outlets.

There is, however, one glaring design flaw: The NV200 is not equipped with a wheelchair ramp.

In fact, only 231 New York cabs (just 2 percent) are required by the city to be equipped with ramps for wheelchair accessibility, reports New Mobility (Aug. 2011). For urban dwellers and tourists who use power wheelchairs that don’t fold up, or for those who can’t transfer out of their chairs, this means that up to 100 cabs will pass by before an accessible one comes along.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates Access-A-Ride, a city-funded public transportation service solely for disabled travelers, but the program is not designed for the modern urban businessperson or tourist. Instead of flagging down a cabbie or calling to arrange a pickup, first-time riders must apply for eligibility at least five days ahead of time, get assessed in person, and then, once they’re certified, renew their status regularly.

Outraged advocate New York State Assemblyman Micah Kellner has lodged a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and brought forward legislation to update the city’s faulty accessibility policies. He has also employed the help of leading disability rights litigator Sid Wolinsky, who argued in district court that operating minivan cabs without ramps violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

James Weisman, senior vice president and general counsel for the United Spinal Association, tells New Mobility that the outcome of this street fight has national implications. “Unlike Vegas,” he says, “what happens in New York doesn’t stay there. If Gotham makes its Yellow Cab fleet accessible, every city will follow.”

Have something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of Utne Reader.

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