ACTIVIST Newsletter logo with ACTIVIST word displayed diagonally from bottom left to upper right
July 2005
WE WANT 100% ACCESSIBLE TAXIS!
by Jean Ryan

Photo of man, with Alexander Wood sitting next to him, holding sign reading 27 is bupkis
27 is Bupkis! at August 2004 taxi hearing
Photo by Philip Bennett

Taxis For ALL Campaign (TFAC) has been in a state of high gear for well over a year. The TFAC steering committee, headed by Terry Moakley, includes the groups of DIA (Disabled In Action), USA (United Spinal Association), 504 Democratic Club, Disabilities Network of New York City, the MS Society, and CIDNY (Center for the Independence of the Disabled in New York), as well as DIAís lawyer from NYLPI (New York Lawyers for the Public Interest), and a consultant. As of the time of writing of this article (mid-July, 2005), we understand that the accessible taxi bill, Intro. 84, is being revised by Councilmember Margarita Lopez, and we are seeking to have input into the content and wording of the bill.

We agree with Councilmember Margarita Lopez that New York City needs to have a 100% accessible taxi fleet in order for people with disabilities to successfully use cabs which are exclusively a hail system in our city. As of this writing, only 29 cabs out of 12,787 taxis are wheelchair-accessible. They are minivans which have been specially converted to be accessible to wheelchair users. We liken an accessible cab sighting to an Elvis sighting because they are now almost that rare. We seek to have a law which will mandate that all NYC taxicabs, as they wear out and need to be replaced, only be replaced with accessible vehicles, not sedans like the Crown Victorias.

For more than a year, the Taxis for ALL Campaign has held a weekly conference call to exchange information, plan strategy and divide up work. We have attended meetings with politicians and the taxi industry, we have written letters, and we made many phone calls. In 2004, we met with the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), Iris Weinshall, who is also a Commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, but she did not offer support for our efforts even though many other U.S. cities have accessible cabs and Londonís entire taxi fleet is wheelchair-accessible. Weinshall serves as special advisor to Mayor Bloomberg on transportation. The TLCís position is that a change to 100% accessibility would be too drastic and should wait until a special taxi vehicle is designed and built. We disagree with these positions as being obstructive to change.

Photo of several taxi cabs lined up on Seventh Avenue in front of Penn Station
No Accessible Taxis in 2 Hours!
Photo by Jean Ryan
We have had 3 roll-ins (two in Manhattan and one in Queens) where we tried to hail a cab at a taxi stand but only saw inaccessible sedans. We spoke up for wheelchair accessibility at a taxi design conference at the New School and testified at Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) hearings. One of our posters said, "27 is Bupkis!" (Yiddish slang for nothing) because only 27 accessible medallions were going to be offered for sale out of 300 medallions. We even marched in a Queens parade and handed out leaflets about accessible taxis to spectators and urged them to call Speaker Miller about the taxi bill.

At roll-ins and at other times, we give interviews to the press about converting the taxi fleet to wheelchair accessibility. Cable TV news station NY1 has covered the issue, as have some network TV stations and several radio stations, including WBAI and WNYC.

Photo of Alexander Wood, Luda Demikhovskaya, Frieda Zames and Carr Massi at roll-in
Group demonstrating at Taxi Roll-In April 2005
Photo by United Spinal

"Make taxis accessible for all," a NY Daily News editorial demanded in May, 2004 with a similar sentiment in a second editorial. The New York Times published a lengthy overview article on accessible taxis that was largely favorable to our cause. It read, "The issue with yellow cabs is spontaneity," said Edith Prentiss, an advocate for the disabled and a Manhattan resident who uses a motorized wheelchair. "I don't need to make a plan like I'm invading Europe, which is really what it often feels like."

We are hopeful that a revised bill which includes 100% conversion of the fleet over time as well as the designation of the upcoming 300 new taxi medallions for accessible vehicles will be presented and passed by the NYC Council in July, 2005 or very soon after. It would be a fitting tribute to Frieda Zamesí memory and her struggle for a taxi she could finally get into with her scooter. Ten years ago, she was one of the founding members of the Taxis For ALL Campaign along with Robert Levine and Marvin Wasserman. We want this for Friedaís memory as well as for all New Yorkers and visitors who need accessible taxis. No more delays! No more excuses! No more discrimination! Taxis are a form of mass transit and it is our civil right to use mass transit.

Note: On June 30th, 2005, the New York City Council passed a budget which included 1.3 million dollars for taxi conversion. Text of Budget Item for Accessible Taxis:
Taxi and Limousine Commission
Disabled Accessible Taxi $1,302,000
In an effort to promote and encourage equal accessibility of yellow medallion taxicabs to the disabled public, the Council allocated $1.3 million in funding to subsidize a Disabled Accessible Taxi program. This initiative would subsidize the cost of converting current yellow taxi medallions to disabled taxicabs by providing a cash grant to current taxi owners and operators to retrofit and place in service accessible vehicles or by reducing the medallion cost during auction.