Court: New York’s taxi cab service violates the ADA

In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a federal court ruled December 23 that New York City must vastly expand taxicab access for people with mobility disabilities.

Aerial View of 6 Yellow Cabs on busy street
Taxicab Access to Expand

“The (Taxi and Limousine Commission) subjects disabled persons who must use wheelchairs and scooters to discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York stated. “As a direct result of the TLC’s policies and regulations, those disabled persons are not provided meaningful access to the benefits of the New York City taxicab service.”

In New York’s current fleet of yellow cab taxis, just 231 of its 13,237 vehicles contain ramps, lifts or other tools making them wheelchair accessible, according to a class action lawsuit filed in January 2010 by Disability Rights Advocates and the United Spinal Association. The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief of behalf of the disability advocacy groups in October.

The New York Legislature passed a measure in June to expand the city’s taxicab fleet, but the city’s proposal, it’s “Taxi of Tomorrow Initiative,” did not contain plans to expand the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles, though the city is planning to create a dispatch system so people with disabilities can call for wheelchair accessible taxis.

Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to veto the measure, saying that it would violate ADA requirements for public services to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities.

On December 20, Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced an overhaul of New York City’s taxicab system, which included provisions requiring the city’s new yellow taxi cabs to be wheelchair accessible and for 20 percent of a new class of livery cabs to be wheelchair accessible.

The Dec. 23 court decision temporarily halts this plan. Until the city submits a plan to the court for providing “meaningful access” in its taxicab service for wheelchair users, the city may only sell medallions for new yellow taxi cabs that are wheelchair accessible. This is similar to the plan in the agreement with Cuomo and Bloomberg, which requires the city to craft a plan that would require approval from the state Department of Transportation.

The court’s decision provides a similar requirement before the city begins selling off medallions for its new fleet of livery cabs, which are separate from the yellow cab service.

“Meaningful access for the disabled to public transportation is not a utopian goal or political promise, it is a basic civil right,” the court stated in its opinion.