Wheelchair user and songwriter Fergus O’Farrell weighs in on a New York taxi debate

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Fergus O'Farrell, right. (Irish Philadelphia Photo Essays via Flickr)
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Fergus O’Farrell is the Irish singer-songwriter behind the cult band Interference. His song “Gold” was featured in the soundtrack of the 2006 movie Once, and will be part of a Broadway adaptation premiering March 18.

It’s not clear whether O’Farrell will be able to see it in person.

O'Farrell uses a wheelchair, and while he's been offered a place to stay in Brooklyn, he doesn't want this trip to be a repeat of his last two visits to New York, when, as he wrote in a Facebook message to the Taxis for All campaign, he was "marooned near to where I was staying both times, uptown or downtown. The private company charges were for millionaires. I really want to go again this March but am really put off ... I have travelled a lot and NY is up with the very worst in this regard.”

Taxis for All, a coalition of groups seeking to make New York City's taxi fleet wheelchair-accessible, and which supplied O'Farrell's letter to Capital, is in the middle of a legal battle with the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. The group would like to see all of the city’s taxis ultimately transition to handicapped-accessibility, while the city is setting up a dispatch system and argues that that will ultimately suffice. At the moment, only 232 of the city’s approximately 13,000 taxis can accommodate wheelchairs.

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(It's worth noting that the Taxis for All litigation will also determine whether the city can implement its outer-borough taxi plan, and by extension whether the Bloomberg administration can close its budget for 2013.)

Taxis for All responded to O'Farrell's Facebook message, and O'Farrell in turn wrote back to them, elaborating on his predicament.

“While it can be frustrating getting a wheelchair cab in Dublin there are many, over 500, and the rate is the same as with other passengers,” he wrote in the email, which Taxis for All forwarded to Capital.

“In terms of getting from Schull to Brooklyn, it is as simple as getting driven in my own adapted vehicle or taking a local wheelchair accessible cab to the train station,” O’Farrell wrote. “The trains are accessible and indeed free with my pass. The airports are accessible and even though the planes are not, there are trained staff who use a special aisle chair to transfer me to a seat and the same procedure is there at JFK at no extra cost. At that point one is in New York and it is only then that the transport issue becomes very expensive and difficult.

“If I could afford it I would stay in a Manhattan hotel but I am a disabled artist-songwriter and I have no regular income except from my art. The offer of the friend's apartment in Brooklyn makes all the difference to me but the lack of New York transport system for wheelchair users mitigate completely against my friend's generous offer. I am simply surprised and disappointed that such a great city is so last century in this matter.”

O’Farrell could theoretically use the M.T.A.-run Access-a-Ride system, but he would first have to prove his eligibility.