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If you're in New York City and in a real hurry to get across town, or you're at the airport and want to get home quickly, you grab a cab, right?
Not if you're in a wheelchair or use an electric scooter, you don't.
Only three of the 12,487 yellow taxis on the road today in New York are accessible to disabled persons – a shameful comment on the power of the taxi industry’s leaders.
That includes the 300 new medallions sold in April, which includes not one accessible vehicle. Altogether, wheelchair users have, at most, a one in 4,162 chance of finding an accessible taxi.
The fleet owners, who control about 71 percent of yellow cabs, take a back seat to no one when it comes to fighting innovative ideas to improve or expand service in their $1.4 billion industry.
Unfortunately, though, they are fighting the drive for accessible taxis with claims that don't stand up to even casual scrutiny. And, sadly, they are trying to steer the Taxi and Limousine Commission and even the City Council — which has been receptive recently to the notion of accessible cabs — in the wrong direction.
For example, fleet owners are telling the TLC and the council that no accessible vehicles exist for taxi use.
Tell that to wheelchair users in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco and scores of other cities, who can easily get a cab when they want one. All those cities have many accessible cabs, which use a simple, manual ramp, that perform just as tirelessly as the non-accessible Ford Crown Victoria typically driven by New York's cabbies.
And tell that to Ford, Chrysler and GM, the three major U.S. carmakers, who produce the Ford Freestar, Dodge Caravan and Chevy Venture – minivans that are easily converted for wheelchair use by established companies.
When they're not claiming there are no accessible vehicles, the fleet owners instead say that the available vehicles are too pricey.
But the facts get in the way of that argument as well. With bulk discounts from the companies that do the conversions and who are eager for New York's business—and federal tax write-offs, the price of the typical accessible minivan is within a couple of thousand dollars of the Crown Vic.
And accessible minivans are a heck of a lot more comfortable for all riders, since the Crown Victorias have little legroom.
What the fleet owners don't understand is that they own a city-issued license and that it's not up to them to choose which New Yorkers or tourists they leave on the curb.
Nor do they appear to appreciate the tremendous improvement in the quality of life that accessible cabs could make in the lives of wheelchair users. Right now, those transit choices are limited.
Like anyone else, wheelchair and scooter users can use city buses – but some bus lines are so slow they couldn't outrace a chicken. Another option is Access-a-Ride, NYC Transit's unreliable share-ride accessible transit service. Access is severely limited on the best and quickest way to get around town – the subways, where only one out of every 10 stations is accessible and the gap between platform and train is hard to maneuver.
That leaves New York's licensed yellow taxis and livery vehicles, which provide door-to-door service quickly and without advance notice. But they're off limits, severely limiting the flexibility and spontaneity that the rest of us take for granted.
Aside from the three accessible cabs, there are a handful of accessible livery vans. But they aren't available in every neighborhood for quick service, even though a TLC regulation requires such service.
Since the fleet owners aren't about to convert their fleets voluntarily, a group called the Taxis for All Campaign, which we help lead, has asked the city council to pass a bill requiring taxi medallion holders to buy accessible vehicles whenever they replace their cabs.
We've asked Transportation Committee chair John Liu (D-Flushing) to introduce the proposal, which would mean New York City would have a fully accessible fleet by 2009 – about a decade after London converted its entire taxi fleet to accessible vehicles.
And we've called on Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Upper East Side) to make sure the bill passes this summer, when we hope Mayor Michael Bloomberg will sign it.
We're pleased that Councilmember Liu and Speaker Miller have shown support. We're counting on them to resist pressure from an industry that can’t get the facts straight and won't meet its obligation to serve all the public.
Terry Moakley of the United Spinal Association, based in Queens, and Jean Ryan of Disabled In Action, are leaders in the Taxis for All Campaign.
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