A federal appellate court has thrown out a lower court injunction requiring that all new taxi and livery medallions in New York City be issued to handicapped-accessible cabs.
But just what that means for the handicapped, the new “taxis of tomorrow” and a proposed $1 billion medallion sale still is anybody’s guess.
In an opinion published on June 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission did not violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to use its regulatory control to require more wheelchair-accessible taxis in the city.
The 29-page ruling vacated a temporary injunction issued in December by the Second District Court for the Southern District of New York, which required all new taxi medallions and livery cab street hail licenses be limited to vehicles that are wheelchair accessible.
“The court correctly found that nothing in the ADA compels the city to require that taxis be wheelchair accessible,” said Mayor Bloomberg in a joint statement with TLC Chairman David Yassky. “The ruling is consistent with common sense and the practical needs of both the taxi industry and the disabled.”
Bloomberg and Yassky said the ruling does not diminish the city’s commitment to enhancing transportation for the handicapped with “progressive programs already in motion,” programs they did not specify.
The suit was originally filed in 2011 by six plaintiffs, including city residents Chris Noel and Simi Linton. Both expressed their disappointment with the ruling in a statement issued by Disability Rights Advocates, which also is a plaintiff.
“We live in a city with few accessible transportation options,” said Linton, who uses a power wheelchair. “The ability to travel throughout the city in a taxi is vital for getting to work, medical appointments and cultural events. It is particularly important at night and in emergencies. Persons with disabilities deserve access to this system.”
Noel, who has used a wheelchair for nearly a decade, said they will continue the fight.
“I have longed for the ability to hail a taxi cab the way I used to before I became disabled,” Noel said. “I would use taxis almost every day if they were accessible.”
Court documents state that “at least 231” of the more than 13,200 cabs in the city are handicapped-accessible, or 1.8 percent of the fleet.
The appellate court’s ruling said that while the TLC exercises “pervasive control” over the city’s taxi industry, it was not required under the ADA “to mandate that persons who need wheelchairs be afforded meaningful access to taxis.”
Writing for the court, Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs said the only question to be settled on the appeal was whether or not the TLC denied the plaintiffs an opportunity to participate in “its services, programs or activities, or otherwise discriminated against them on account of a disability.”
The court found that while ADA regulations would prohibit the TLC from refusing to grant a license to qualified people with disabilities, “it does not assist persons who are consumers of the licensee’s product.”
Jacobs wrote that “at the risk of being obvious, ‘[T]he New York City taxicab industry is a private industry,’” and that “even if a private industry (such as the New York City taxi industry) fails to provide meaningful access for persons with disabilities , a licensing entity is not therefore in violation ... unless the private industry practice results from the licensing requirements.
“The [basis] of the plaintiffs’ claim is that there are too few accessible taxis in New York City and that the TLC should use its regulatory authority to require that more taxis be accessible,” Jacobs wrote.
But the court ruled that such a claim against the TLC cannot be supported under ADA regulations because nothing in the TLC’s administration of the licensing program discriminates against persons with disabilities.
“Although only 231 medallions are conditioned on wheelchair accessibility, none of the medallions issued by the TLC prohibits any medallion owner from operating an accessible taxi,” Jacobs added.
The court has sent the case back to the district court with instructions to grant summary judgement in favor of the city.
“This is only round one of what is certain to be a lengthy fight on many fronts over whether people with disabilities can be excluded from the use of New York taxis,” said Attorney Sid Wolinsky of Disability Rights Advocates in a press release. Wolinsky argued the case before the Second Circuit.
The ruling will have no impact on the ongoing suit filed against the city by yellow cab owners who have temporarily halted the city’s outer borough taxi plan.
The city is continuing to weigh an appeal of a June 1 court ruling that has stalled the plan to allow livery cars to accept street hail fares in northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs.
State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engron issued a temporary restraining order on June 1 against implementing the plan, under which the Taxi and Limousine Commission would grant 18,000 street hail licenses to livery cabs.
The plan is intended to serve areas where yellow medallion cabs are scarce, and still would allow yellow cabs exclusive rights to take hails in midtown and lower Manhattan and the two Queens airports.
The suit was filed by the Metropolitan Taxi Board of Trade, which alleges that the Bloomberg administration illegally got the enabling legislation passed by the state Legislature when he could not reach an agreement with the City Council.
The city argued before Engron that the state did have jurisdiction over a matter that the Taxi Board of Trade said always has been a city issue. Engron ruled that the plan cannot be put into place while the claim is investigated further.
The plan also would have included the sale of more than 2,000 new Yellow cab medallions. All sales totalled are expected to bring the city $1 billion.
The suit also has called into question how and when the city can implement its “taxi of tomorrow” program, under which all city cabs would eventually be replaced with Nissan NV2000 minivans, which are not handicapped-accessible without $15,000 upgrades.