Daily News editorial, May 3, 2004
Make taxis accessible for all
Taxi fares went up at midnight, giving a much-deserved raise to the city's hardworking hacks. Now it's time to give something to New Yorkers who use wheelchairs - like a ride.
Of the 12,187 yellow cabs on the road, three can accommodate wheelchairs. Repeat: Only three of the city's 12,187 cabs are wheelchair-accessible. That means the odds of hailing such a vehicle are longer than 4,000 to 1. Interested passengers might as well play Lotto and invest their winnings in a chauffeured limo.
Or, theoretically, they can call for a livery or black car. The Taxi and Limousine Commission requires all livery and black car companies to dispatch accessible vehicles when called, but of the city's 38,000 such vehicles, all of 13 are wheelchair-accessible.
This is just plain wrong, and there's no reason New York could not go all the way to requiring that new yellow taxis must be wheelchair-accessible - just like all of London's cabs. If the TLC so ordered, all cabs here could be accessible in 2009, when the replacement cycle for cars currently on the streets would be complete.
There are costs, of course. Wheelchair-accessible cars are more expensive. In the case of a Ford Windstar minivan, for example, advocates for the disabled put the conversion price at $2,000. Insurance coverage could also be pricier. But with fleet medallions worth nearly $700,000 and individual medallions selling for $300,000, there should be money to help defray the added expenses.
The city just raised more than $100 million from the sale of 300 medallions, with 600 more to be sold over the next two years. There's also money in the MTA's horrible Access-A-Ride program, which spends $181 million a year paying eight companies to provide by-appointment shared rides for the disabled. But the service is abysmal. Rides are often late or don't show up at all. And, now, four of the companies have been idled by a strike.
If the TLC won't move, the City Council must. The previous chairwoman of the TLC, Diane McGrath-McKechnie, strongly supports a City Council bill that phases in accessible cars as cabs are retired. Mayor Bloomberg says taxis are part of the public transit system of New York. He's right, and so they should be treated aptly. Every city bus and renovated major subway station is accessible. The same should be true of taxis.