Friday, August 10, 2012

Taxi of Tomorrow But Not Handicapped Accessible?

A funny thing happened on the way to New York City arriving at its decision to use a Nissan design for the Taxi of Tomorrow. ADA compliance went out the window and only a fraction of the new vehicles will have to meet accessibility requirements.

That's total nonsense.

You see, London has chosen a design for its new taxis, and they've chosen the same Nissan design, except that all its vehicles will be accessible.
But in at least one one fundamental way the two taxis diverge: In London, all of the vehicles will be wheelchair-accessible. In New York, only a small fraction of them will be.

“London has the most accessible taxi fleet in the world with every licensed taxi being fully wheelchair-accessible,” explained John Mason, Transport for London’s Director of Taxi and Private Hire, in a statement emailed to Capital.

In its recent press release unveiling the new vehicle, Nissan boasted that, “A particular focus was also placed on providing for passengers with mobility issues," and included a very supportive statement from Assist UK, which runs a network of homes for the disabled.

Contrast that with New York City, where only 233 of the city's more than 13,000 taxis can accommodate wheelchairs. The mayor's new taxi overhaul plan would put another 2,000 wheelchair accessible cabs on the street, but that plan is facing some serious legal hurdles at the moment.

Meanwhile, the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s very selection of a so-called "Taxi of Tomorrow" that cannot accommodate wheelchairs has left disabled advocates, and their political allies, enraged.

Comptroller John Liu has vowed to hold up the city’s contract with Nissan (though it’s not clear that's within his power).

“The Mayor should take a cue from our friends across the pond and ensure that the Taxi of Tomorrow is a taxi for everyone," said Liu's spokesman, Michael Loughran, in an email.

A spokesman for Taxis for All, a group of disabled advocates fighting for greater taxi accessibility, wondered why New York could not replicate London, where taxi accessibility has been mandated since 1989.
Accessibility is a huge problem for getting around New York City. The subway system has only a fraction of its stations that are ADA compliant. Buses have lifts, but Access-a-Ride is how the MTA tries to deal with its ADA compliance. Access-a-Ride is costing hundreds of millions of dollars a year - and each trip costs $60 per rider. That's unsustainable. It would be cheaper to simply give those people a cab ride, but the number of accessible cabs are woefully low and are all but impossible to find in the outer boroughs.

There's no reason that the new taxi design would be fully ADA compliant as per the British design and it would meet the needs for the next generation of cabs around the world.

What we are seeing though is that politics and money are trumping sound public policy. Cab owners (the ones who own medallions - the right to have taxis) don't want to see the value of those medallions diluted by new ones, so they've gotten the TLC to dilute their plans for new taxis, even though the cab drivers (who aren't the owners in most cases) are paying for operating costs out of their own pockets while the owners are raking in profits. The ADA compliance has fallen by the boards even though ADA compliance would be a tremendous step forward in improving transit connectivity throughout the City.


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