A councilman takes a symbolic, Quinn-tweaking stand on wheelchair-accessible taxis

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A taxi in Sunnyside. (chrisgoldny via flickr)
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More than two years ago, G. Oliver Koppell, a councilman from the Bronx, introduced a bill that would require all new taxis to be wheelchair-accessible.

The next month, the Council held a hearing on it. And then, crickets.

Neither the chairman of the Council's transportation committee, James Vacca, nor the speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn, would schedule a vote on the matter.

In the meantime, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who doesn't really believe that wheelchair users should be hailing cabs off the street anyway, moved forward with his Taxi of Tomorrow program, which will require the vast majority of new taxis to be Nissan NV200s starting late next year. That model is not wheelchair-accessible.

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Rather than replicate London's citywide taxi-accessibility model, the city has instead set up a taxi dispatch system.

Koppell, who chairs the Council's disability services commitee, believes the legislative body still has time to block the administration's plans, and so on Tuesday, he sent a letter to Vacca informing him that he would invoke a rarely used rule to force a transportation committee vote on the matter.

I asked him today if he had gotten a response yet from Vacca or Quinn.

"No," he said. "Only annoyance."

How did they convey their annoyance?

"Well, mostly in terms of saying, 'Why didn’t you give us a heads up?'" said Koppell. "But I did give them a heads up. I mean the fact is that I did give them a heads up. And the fact is that I’ve been advocating this for years, not months, but years, and I’ve personally taken it up with the speaker and I’ve personally taken it up with Chairman Vacca, and I’ve been turned down. So it’s not like there’s a big surprise."

What reason did they give for turning him down?

"'We’re studying the matter,'" said Koppell. "Well, that’s the speaker's view. I think it’s pretty clear that Chairman Vacca, in not moving the bill, is reflecting the speaker’s wish not to move the bill."

According to the rule, known as the Sponsor's Privilege, Vacca's transportation committee now has 60 days to schedule a hearing and then, after the hearing, another 45 days to schedule a vote.

The bill has 37 sponsors, which means that it could theoretically pass, but really only theoretically, because, as Koppell noted, "The speaker has a lot of power," and she might dissuade members who've signed onto the bill from actually voting for it.

"We received the sponsor’s letter yesterday and we’re reviewing it," said Quinn yesterday, when asked about the legislation. "It obviously sets forth a process with different steps in it. Myself and Chair Vacca are reviewing it and we’ll be in touch with [the] sponsor."

"I think we all support the goal of expanding taxi cab accessibility," she continued. "Taxi cab issues, as we’ve discussed, are complicated at the moment partly because of matters related to the budget and in Albany. Now that the legislature is back in session, we can have clarification on some of these issues."

Vacca's spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.