A class action lawsuit filed today in Federal District Court in the Southern District of New York alleges that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) violates applicable Federal and City law by failing to provide yellow taxis that men, women, and children who use wheelchairs are able to access. The suit is the first of its kind in the country.
The suit is significant, in part, because the TLC is on the verge of selecting a new model for New York's entire fleet of taxis. The taxi fleet will start to be replaced with the new model during the next two years.
If the TLC fails to choose an accessible taxi, men, women and children who use wheelchairs will, for the next decade, continue to be unable to access New York taxis.
New York City has more taxis than any city in America. Yet only around 200 (1.8%) of the 13,237 taxis are accessible to people who use wheelchairs, and at any given time only a fraction of the accessible taxis are on the road.
The suit is brought by a coalition of individuals and organizations including: United Spinal Association, 504 Democratic Club, Taxis for All Campaign, and Disabled In Action. All these organizations advocate on behalf of people with disabilities and each has been lobbying for an accessible taxi fleet for years.
The lawsuit seeks no damages. Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates, which is a non-profit organization that specializes in impact litigation on behalf of people with disabilities. Plaintiffs are also represented by Outten & Golden, which is a leader in individual and class action employment discrimination litigation in New York City.
"The lack of accessible taxis means that men, women, children, and the elderly who use wheelchairs are excluded from participating in the city community and are deprived of utilizing this vital mode of transportation," says James Weisman, United Spinal Association senior vice president and general counsel.
"Not being able to use taxis limits the jobs that people who use wheelchairs can take. It limits the social events they can attend," Plaintiffs' attorney, Julia Pinover, from Disability Rights Advocates' New York office said. She continued, "New York experiences extreme and hazardous weather conditions. It leaves vulnerable populations such as people with disabilities and the elderly out in the cold, snow, or rain for intolerable periods of time. TLC's failure to make its taxi fleet accessible is shameful and unnecessary."
Chris Noel, who is an individual plaintiff, said, "I have been using a wheelchair for almost ten years. I remember how easy it was for me to hail a cab when I was not using my wheelchair. But now, because there are so few taxis I can use, I often wait for an hour or more before an accessible taxi even passes me." Jean Ryan of organizational Plaintiff Disabled in Action echoed this sentiment saying, "I used to be able to get a taxi before I used a wheelchair. Now, forget about it."
Plaintiff Simi Linton, Ph.D., is a lifelong New Yorker and power wheelchair user who works primarily in New York City. Dr. Linton said, "New York City needs a taxi system that is accessible for all its citizens, including people with disabilities. On a recent trip to London, I was able to use any of London's taxis. I was able to get around that city independently and with dignity. London's fully accessible taxis should be a model for New York City."
"This is a golden opportunity for the TLC to transition the taxi fleet to an accessible car model with minimal administrative burden and at minimal cost to drivers and medallion holders," said Edith Prentiss of the Plaintiff organization, the Taxi's for All Campaign. "If this transition is not implemented now, it would be a disaster."
A copy of the Complaint can be found at www.dralegal.org.
About United Spinal Association - United Spinal is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization formed in 1946 by paralyzed veterans and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Americans with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, ALS and post-polio.
About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) - Disability Rights Advocates is a nonprofit legal organization which, for nearly twenty years, has specialized in law reform and impact class action litigation on behalf of people with all kinds of disabilities. Disability Rights Advocates litigates nationally and has offices in New York City and Berkeley, California.