4:31 pm May. 2, 2012
This afternoon, Comptroller John Liu said he wouldn't approve the city's Taxi of Tomorrow contract with Nissan because the vehicle is not wheelchair-accessible, an action the Bloomberg administration called, "mysterious," "clearly ill-informed," and also legally suspect.
"First, the TLC is in full compliance with ADA, and will remain in compliance," said Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, in an emailed statement.
A spokesperson for the city's Law Department, meanwhile, argued that Liu had no legal basis upon which to reject the contract anyway.
"While the Comptroller and the others who participated in his press event today are free to espouse their policy position, Comptroller Liu may not ignore his responsibilities under the New York City Charter to further these positions," said Kate O'Brien Ahlers, in a statement. "Unfortunately, he's proposing to do just that. The law limits the issues upon which the Comptroller can refuse to register a contract. None of the matters he raised today—including ADA compliance—would constitute lawful grounds for refusing to do so."
According to the Law Department, the City Charter includes just two bases upon which Liu can legally reject a city contract. The first category is largely ministerial: does the contract have all the right signatures, has the correct amount of money been appropriated, etc.
The comptroller can alsp reject a contract on the grounds that corruption is involved.
In response to the administration's assertions, Liu's deputy comptroller for legal affairs, Valerie Budzik, said, “It is absurd to suggest that the City Comptroller should register a contract that is discriminatory and in violation of federal civil rights law.”
It's not clear what happens next. The city does not need Liu to sign any checks for this contract, because it's the medallion owners, not the city, that will be buying the new taxis. Theoretically, the city could move ahead with the contract absent the comptroller's approval, come what may. It's not unheard of for there to be litigation between the mayor and the comptroller.
Certainly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made no secret of his view that that fleet-wide taxi accessibility is unnecessary.
“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 in December. “It just starts to get dangerous."
Instead of providing accessible taxis fleetwide, the Bloomberg administration wants to implement a taxi dispatch system, so that wheelchair users can request taxi service by phone. The December deal that paved the way for borough taxi service also requires that 20 percent of those taxis be wheelchair accessible. Further, the deal allows the city to auction off 2,000 new regular yellow taxi medallions.
Unsurprisingly, the Bloomberg administration's stance on this issue sits poorly with disabled advocates, who routinely point out that London has required all new cabs be wheelchair accessible since 1989.
"Denying access to the yellow cab system and creating a separate system for them would be described as 'Jim Crow' were it done to blacks," said Jim Weisman, general counsel for the United Spinal Association, in a statement. "In fact, no one would tolerate this denial of civil rights if it was directed at any other minority group."
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