Bloomberg announces a reduction in childhood obesity, says people in wheelchairs can’t hail cabs

Bloomberg with healthy children. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Responding to a question about ongoing negotiations in Albany over his plan to create a new class of outer-borough taxi in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated a previous claim that people in wheelchairs can’t hail cabs.

“I think one thing that is clear is people in wheelchairs can’t go out into traffic and try to flag down a cab,” said Bloomberg. “It just starts to get dangerous."

The mayor’s argument, one that he has made before, underscores the logic behind both the city’s selection of a non-wheelchair-accessible Taxicab of Tomorrow, and the specs of the mayor's big plan to overhaul the way livery transportation works in the outer boroughs, which was made into a bill and passed by both houses of the state legislature in June, but has been held up by the governor in part because it doesn't mandate that any of the new taxis be handicapped-accessible.

The legislation would create up to 30,000 permits for livery cars that could pick up street hails, none of which would have to be accessible to people in wheelchairs, and it would also mandate the sale of 1,500 new taxi medallions, approximately a third of which would be for wheelchair-accessible taxis.

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The timing of today’s remarks is notable because the Bloomberg administration is now engaged in last-ditch efforts to persuade Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the legislation. In so doing, Bloomberg’s representatives have been making major concessions on accessibility, going so far as to agree that all of the taxi medallions and 2,000 of the livery permits be for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Advocates for physically disabled people have been fighting for more accessible taxis for a good 15 years now. But their arguments have acquired greater traction in recent months, thanks in part to their unusual alliance with taxi medallion owners and financiers, with whom they have historically been at odds. The medallion owners and financiers oppose Bloomberg's taxi plan for reasons having more to do with maintaining their monopoly on taxi-cab service in New York City.

The mayor's remarks from today won't go over well with advocates for the disabled.

“It is currently against the law for a yellow cab to refuse to pick up a person who hails them in a wheelchair (wheelchairs that are self- pushed can be folded),” said Jim Weisman, general counsel of the United Spinal Association, via email. “Obviously, the mayor doesn’t know and doesn’t care.”

"People with disabilities cross streets, live in tough neighborhoods, raise families, work and need to travel," added Weisman.

Bloomberg's comments came during the question-and-answer section of a press conference announcing the first recorded reduction in the rate of childhood obesity in New York City. He was joined at the press conference at P.S. 218 in the South Bronx by deputy mayor of health and human services Linda Gibbs, health commissioner Thomas Farley, schools chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Bloomberg announced that obesity among students from kindergarten to eighth grade in New York City have fallen from 21.9 percent in the 2006-2007 school year to 20.7 percent last year. A more pronounced decline was seen in children between 5 and 6 years old, whose rate of obesity dropped from 20.2 percent to 18.2 percent. The statistics were included in the Centers for Disease Control's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The mayor attributed the decline to his administration’s many efforts to encourage physical exercise, put salad bars in schools, eliminate deep-fried foods, and limit fattening vending-machine drinks.

The mayor also announced today new vending machine standards for all city facilities allowing only snacks with no more than 200 calories and 7 grams of fat. He also announced the creation of a cross-agency task force that will issue recommendations for further obesity reduction.

"Because of coordinated, sustained action, I’m happy to say our children are benefiting from our campaign against obesity, which has plagued communities here in New York and across the nation for nearly three decades," said the mayor, standing next to three svelte children and a strategically placed stainless-steel salad bar.

“That’s roughly 6,500 fewer obese children in public schools across the five boroughs," added the mayor.