Liu will reject Bloomberg administration’s Taxi of Tomorrow contract

Taxi of Tomorrow (via taxioftomorrow.com)
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City Comptroller John Liu is expected to announce today that he's rejecting the Bloomberg administration's Taxi of Tomorrow contract, erecting yet another possible barrier to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ambitious vision to overhaul New York City's taxi and limousine fleet.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission's has contracted with Nissan to produce the NV200, otherwise known as the Taxi of Tomorrow, according to a source familiar with his decision.

The city wants to require taxi-medallion owners to buy the Nissan car when it comes time to replace their existing cabs. The NV200 has passenger airbags, USB ports, sliding doors and a sunroof, but it cannot accomodate wheelchairs. Liu is expected to reject the city's contract on the basis of its handicapped inaccessibility.

Liu's office had no immediate comment. Nor did the T.L.C.

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The mayor's effort to create a new class of borough taxis that would offer street-hail service in neighborhoods is also facing legal hurdles

UPDATE: Here's a letter Liu sent Bloomberg today expressing his concerns about the Nissan contract. Among other things, Liu writes, "The City should take immediate steps to modify the contract so that the entire 'Taxi of Tomorrow' fleet is wheelchair accessible.'"

UPDATE: In a statement, Liu says that he would reject the contract as it now stands, though he has yet to receive it formally.

Here's his full press release:

NEW YORK, NY – City Comptroller John C. Liu today called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to modify the proposed “Taxi of Tomorrow” agreement before sending the contract to the Comptroller’s Office for approval as required by the City Charter. Comptroller Liu vowed to reject the agreement, until New York’s entire taxi fleet follows in the footsteps of cities like London and makes all cabs wheelchair accessible.

“The new contract for taxis presents us with a historic opportunity to right a wrong that New Yorkers with disabilities have been fighting to achieve for nearly two decades,” Comptroller Liu said. “Requiring cabs to have independent passenger climate controls is nice, but when you fail to make them accessible to a growing number of New Yorkers, it’s not just a slap in the face, it’s illegal. We will send back any plan that does not uphold the civil rights demanded by the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

New York City’s 13,000 yellow cabs are famous, but for individuals with disabilities they represent the frustration of a separate and unequal transportation system. Just 231, less than 2%, of City taxis are wheelchair accessible. Although the City controls the sale of taxi medallions, it has failed to require that all taxis be accessible to wheelchairs.

“With the Taxi of Tomorrow, Mayor Bloomberg had the opportunity to transform the way New Yorkers get around the city whether they’re on two feet or four wheels,” said Assembly Member Micah Kellner. “Sadly, his choice for the Taxi of Tomorrow – the Nissan NV-200 – will be remembered as the Cathy Black of taxis. The Mayor should scrap his contract with Nissan and commit to making every taxi accessible to people with disabilities.”

“The Taxi of Tomorrow contract should be rejected,” said City Councilmember Oliver Koppell. “The contract includes terms that, in my view, violate the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The City has a responsibility to come down on the side of civil rights.”

“The Mayor and Taxi and Limousine Commissioner have chosen to deny access to new taxis to wheelchair users and require only some to be accessible,” said James Weisman, SVP and General Counsel United Spinal Association. “They would force wheelchair users to depend on a dispatch system instead of being able to hail any cab like all other New Yorkers and visitors.”

In December 2011, a federal court ruled that the City, through its Taxi and Limousine Commission, was in violation of the ADA. Recent proposals have failed to directly address this violation of civil rights. A proposal for a separate dispatch system for passengers using wheelchairs, for example, fails to address the underlying problem — there are not enough wheelchair accessible taxis in the City.

“The so-called “Taxi of Tomorrow” is really the taxi of yesterday,” said Edith Prentiss, Chair of the Taxis for All Campaign. “It rolls us back to the days before the Americans With Disabilities Act became federal law, two decades ago.”

Making the City’s taxi fleet wheelchair accessible is not just a civil rights issue, but is also simple common sense. Expanding access to taxis would reduce the financial stress on the MTA’s Access-A-Ride program.

“Let’s face it, anyone could find themselves in a wheelchair tomorrow,” said Comptroller Liu. “We should do everything possible to ensure that New York City’s iconic yellow cab does not become a symbol of exclusion by telling wheelchair users ‘find another ride.’ That’s not what New York City is about.”

UPDATE: The Bloomberg administration says Liu doesn't have the power to block the contract.