Environmental lawsuit challenges NYC taxi accessibility plan

NYC Taxis to be Accessible and Eco-Friendly
NYC Taxis to be Accessible and Eco-Friendly

New York City’s ambitious taxi accessibility plan may have hit a new roadblock.

In September 2014, the City reached an agreement with disability advocates, agreeing to convert half of city’s taxi fleet to wheelchair accessible vehicles by 2020.

However, the City Council also passed a law in 2005, requiring the city to create hybrid electric vehicles available to the city’s taxi medallion holders.

At present, 581 of the city’s 13,587 taxis are wheelchair accessible.

As of January 1, the day the city was supposed to begin its four-year phase in plan of the accessible vehicles, the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has not yet approved a hybrid, wheelchair accessible vehicle, despite the express requirements of city rules promulgated to implement the settlement.

“It seems like the city put themselves in a box,”  Jim Weisman, president of the United Spinal Association, told Capital New York.

On December 29, the Committee for Taxi Safety, which is being represented by Cuti Hecker Wang LLP, sued the TLC in New York County Supreme Court. The class-action lawsuit [PDF] seeks to block the rules until the TLC approves a hybrid taxi, alleging that the City has already acknowledged it was required to approve a hybrid vehicle by January 1 in the settlement, implementing regulations and in statements by city officials.

“Petitioners do not opposed the TLC’s efforts to afford people with mobility disabilities greater access to taxi service,” the lawsuit states. “But such efforts cannot come at the expense of the City Council’s considered commitment to clean air and fuel conversion.

“The TLC plainly has no authority to ignore such an important and unambiguous statutory requirement and must be enjoined from doing so.”

The taxi accessibility plan was the product of a nearly four-year legal battle between disability advocates and the administration of then-mayor Michael Bloomberg. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act lacks specific requirements for taxis, a January 2011 lawsuit alleged that the ADA required the City to provide “meaningful access” to its taxi fleet.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against the plaintiffs, but the City nonetheless reached an agreement with the plaintiffs, the first settlement of its type. The agreement does not encompass taxis from Uber, whcih has been heavily criticized by disability advocates for, thus far, providing almost no accessible vehicles.

Disability Rights Advocates and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton filed the lawsuit, on behalf of the Taxis for All Campaign, United Spinal Association, 504 Democratic Club and Disabled in Action.