“Accessible taxi’s is happening, it’s happening in Washington D.C., it’s happening in Chicago, it’s happening Philadelphia and it’s happening because we’ve done it in New York,” said a contented James Weisman, his words accompanied by warm applause.
Mr. Weisman, senior counsel to the United Spinal Association, was speaking at a party for those involved in the Taxis For All campaign on Friday. The reason for the celebration was the Disability Rights Advocates landmark judicial victory against the city in December, when they successfully argued that any future New York taxicab that was not wheelchair accessible violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The same way we made the buses accessible and the whole country followed, the same thing is going to happen here with the taxis.” Mr. Weisman said, speaking in front of a yellow cake that had a model taxi with a ramp as decoration, the word ‘Congratulations’ was poured across in icing. “It’s going to be as profound a change as the buses, I’m sure,” he said, alluding to the ripple effect that occurred after the adoption of accessible buses in New York.
Someone in the crowd got a tad excited and shouted, “And if it doesn’t happen, we’ll sue!”.
“Right!” responded Mr. Weisman, with a nod of his head and shrug of his shoulders. The party was thrown by Anne Davis, former chair of the Taxi For All steering committee. “We’ve been working for 15 years towards this legislation,” Ms. Davis said, “and I thought we should celebrate it so I offered to throw the party.”
Those at the party who used a wheelchair were in top spirits. Considering they had spent 15 winters (or more) wheeling around Manhattan, waiting at various bus stops with frost bitten fingers, one could understand their glee.
Major cities like London have had a 100% accessible taxicab fleet for a long time, so why has it taken New York this long? “Well, we didn’t get the cooperation,” Ms. Davis said. Mayor Bloomberg “didn’t even think people in wheelchairs should be out on the streets hailing cabs.”
Indeed, it would appear for long periods that Mayor Bloomberg was steadfast against any agreement on accessible cabs. At one stage, answering why the ‘Taxi of Tomorrow’ wasn’t accessible, he the bizarrely stated that “wheelchair users don’t tip well.” The ruling last December was viewed by some in the political world as a victory for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who consistently reiterated his refusal to sign any bill that did not include accessible cabs.
Joe Rappaport, ex-Transportation Analyst at the State Senate who was deeply involved in the Taxi For All movement, was there, as was Julie Pinover, one of the attorneys who represented the Disability Rights Advocates.
The next step in this story will see the Bloomberg administration present a extensive report to Judge Daniels, which outlines the plan for increasing the availability of wheelchair-accessible taxis. Until this report is produced, and approved, the City can only issue permits to cabs that are accessible.
For at least one group of New Yorkers, they can have their cake and eat it, too.