Wheelchair accessibility advocates filed a lawsuit in 2011 to increase the number of taxis in the city that could accommodate passengers with wheelchairs. Manhattan federal judge George Daniels approved a settlement in April requiring taxi passengers in New York City to pay a 30-cent surcharge to fund upgrades to make more of the city’s cabs wheelchair accessible. The new surcharge goes into effect this year.
Daniels said in issuing his ruling that this was a historic step. He compared it to Jackie Robinson’s breaking the “color barrier” when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. He said that decades from now, New Yorkers will take wheelchair accessible taxis for granted.
The city expects the surcharge to generate at least $50 million in revenue annually. The money will be used to fund upgrades of at least 7,500 of the city’s yellow cabs to make them wheelchair accessible by 2020. Cab owners who are chosen will receive $15,000 to upgrade their vehicles. Currently only about 600 of the city’s 13,000 taxis can accommodate wheelchairs.
The Taxis for All Campaign was one of the plaintiffs in the case. Sid Wolinsky, a lawyer with Disability Rights Advocates and another plaintiff, said the settlement would “vault” New York from having one of the least accessible taxi fleets to having one of the most accessible.
Daniels suggested that the city ask taxi drivers to volunteer to make their cabs wheelchair accessible, rather than using a lottery system and requiring those who are chosen to make the upgrades. He also encouraged the city to regularly review the surcharge to make sure that it is not charging passengers too much.
The Greater New York Taxi Association has expressed concerns about how the money will be spent and who will be held accountable.
Having spent two days in New York City in 2013 with Auti Angel of Push Girls, we are very pleased to see this ruling. Rolling with her opened our eyes to see what obstacles are present, and lack of adapted taxis was clearly one. We hope other cities follow suit.