A recent commission mandate was passed in New York City that required for-hire-vehicles, such as limousines and taxi cabs, to accommodate those with disabilities by providing wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Suffice to say, some people weren’t so happy with it; a group comprised of several independent for-hire-vehicle companies sought an injunction to block the rules, claiming that “the Taxi and Limousine Commission was overstepping its authority” by setting accessibility requirements, and that their businesses would be devastated by their implementation.
The actual rules gave for-hire-vehicle operators until June 30 of next year to dispatch 5% of their trips in wheel-chair accessible vehicles, and five years to reach 25% of rides. Many limousine services have fewer than five vehicles in their fleet, so they would be able to reach that second requirement by outfitting one single car. The group opposing the rules argued that the changes they’d need to make, either in updating current vehicles or purchasing new ones, would cost them between $250 million and $300 million just within that first year.
Needless to say, the judge denied the injunction claim and wrote a 33-page opinion stating that the commission’s rules “offer flexibility” to the drivers and their companies — if they do not possess enough accessible cars themselves, they can “[use] the resources of other FHV bases.”
The group dropped their legal dispute after their injunction got shot down. A spokesman for the Taxi and Limousine Commission responded:
“We are pleased that the suit’s withdrawal removes a barrier that would have potentially hampered us in continuing our work to improve transportation options for persons with disabilities.”
When you consider the fact that 3.6 million Americans above the age of 15 require the use of a wheelchair, the idea of denying them access to the same basic services that everybody else receives is ridiculous. Teenagers still deserve to ride in style to their prom, regardless of their disabilities. People come from all over the world to visit the Big Apple and shouldn’t be discriminated against just because they need transportation that handles their specific needs. Ruth Lowenkron, director of the disability justice program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, stated:
“We are hopeful [FHV operators] understand that the mandate is not only what the law requires but is also the proper thing to do.”
For-hire-vehicles are a luxury that we take for granted — they’re convenient, clean (which is astounding when you think about the fact that 70% of drivers eat or drink in their car), and affordable. Apps like Uber and Lyft have revolutionized the accessibility of transportation for those that are already mobile, and it’s only fair that those with limited mobility have the same opportunities.
Justin Rakestraw, president of Q Transport — a paratransit company in Chicago that specializes in non-emergency medical and disability-related transportation — fully understands that. His private fleet focuses on survivors of vehicle accidents (with varying degrees of disability, including paraplegics), as well as those recovering from sport or gunshot injuries.
“It is enlightening to meet so many people,” Rakestraw said. “There was a young man shot in the back and on his fourth day in a wheelchair he was so happy to see us providing this service. He said, ‘I feel like my life isn’t over.'”
In addition to meeting those percentage requirements, FHV company employees in NYC will need to undergo Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) training; their licenses will not be issued or renewed if the course is not completed.