Landmark settlement reached in NYC taxi case

Photo of yellow can van on city street
Landmark NYC Taxi Decision

At least half of New York City’s yellow medallion taxis must be made accessible to people with mobility disabilities by 2020, under a first-of-its-kind settlement announced Dec. 6.

The settlement caps a high-profile legal battle that has lasted for most of departing Mayor Bloomberg’s third term.

Currently, a mere 231 of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission’s 13,237 yellow cabs contain ramps, lifts or other tools that make them accessible to people using wheelchairs and scooters. The city had already announced a plan to auction off 2,000 medallions for accessible taxis over several years, two hundred of which were sold last month.

Under the terms of the settlement, the city must replace at least half of its yellow taxis, which normally last three to five years, each year with a wheelchair accessible model. In addition to these steps, the TLC will propose rules to ensure that the city meets its goal by 2020.

“New York is a world class city. Now it will also have a world class taxi system,” said Sid Wolinsky of Disability Rights Advocates, which represented the plaintiffs, in a news release. “This will make New York a more livable city for tens of thousands of residents and visitors alike.”

Early in his third term, Mayor Bloomberg announced his “Taxi for Tomorrow” initiative to overhaul the city’s taxi fleet. This plan contained no measure to expand the number of wheelchair accessible taxis, prompting a class-action lawsuit in January 2010 from the Taxis For All Campaign, United Spinal Association, 504 Democratic Club and Disabled in Action.

The Americans with Disabilities Act exempts taxis from its transportation accessibility requirements. Nonetheless, the plaintiffs, with the assistance of the Justice Department, argued that the city, through its pervasive control over the TLC, had denied people with mobility disabilities “meaningful access” to its taxi services, in violation of the ADA.

This argument found favor at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which issued a first-of-its-kind decision in the plaintiff’s favor in December 2011. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the decision in June 2012, finding that the TLC was not obligated to license more accessible taxis.

Most recently, the plaintiff’s filed a new legal action this September, which argued that the city’s new taxis should be classified as vans, rather than taxis, which would make them subject to a different set of ADA accessibility requirements.

In October, a New York Court blocked Mayor Bloomberg’s Taxi of Tomorrow initiative, on the grounds that the city charter does not grant the TLC authority to require medallion owners to purchase a certain taxi model. The settlement specifically states it is not contingent on the future of the Taxi of Tomorrow initiative, which incoming mayor Bill de Blasio has already scrapped.

For the Taxis For All Campaign, Friday’s announcement represents the culmination of a nearly two-decade battle for an inclusive taxi system.

“We’re overjoyed that the City has finally seen fit to treat us fairly,” said Edith Prentiss, chair of the Taxis For All Campaign, in the news release. “We believe this historic pact will soon make a huge difference for people who use wheelchairs not only here in New York City but across the country.”