In new taxi plan, wheelchair access earns priorityBy
For millions of New Yorkers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s taxi bill compromise came as a welcome relief yesterday. For those who do not live in Manhattan south of of 96th St. or in select parts of western Brooklyn and Queens, finding a yellow cab on the streets is akin to winning the New York lottery. Under the new plan, though, access for everyone will be greatly expanded, but those disabled New Yorkers who have few transit options come out ahead.
First, the official details. Per Cuomo’s press release, the governor will approve the bill on Wednesday, and the legislature will approve an amendment next term. It allows for the Taxi and Limousine Commission to issue “up to 18,000” new medallions of “hail-accessible inter-borough livery licenses.” The city must grant $15,000 per vehicle to retrofit old cars or purchase new handicapped-accessible vehicles. The city can also sell 2000 new medallions, but all of those must go to accessible vehicles.
“By working together and finding common ground, I am pleased that we have been able to reach a deal that will extend taxi and livery service to the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan, while ensuring full access for the disabled,” Governor Cuomo said. “The bill as originally passed failed to address the needs of individuals with disabilities and did not provide any incentive for the livery industry to ensure disabled New Yorkers had full access to the taxicab system.”
Accessibility issues, long assumed to be a front for the powerful medallion and taxi-owner lobby, have indeed been concerns for a while. The current fleet of taxi cabs in New York City are simply not handicapped-accessible, and the TLC’s Taxi of Tomorrow is not either, must to the concern of many. This new bill should address some concerns.
As I reported earlier on Tuesday, the new livery medallions will be phased in over three years. Apparently, the city is set to sell them for $1500 each while subsequent owners can hawk them at market rates, thus creating an absurd situation where the government is literally giving money away. Meanwhile, the city says it can generate $1 billion revenue from the sales of the livery and yellow cab medallions, and that’s money that is sorely needed in this economy.
For the city, this measure is something of a rebuke as the City Council failed to pass such an expansion of cab service, and the Mayor who has long championed this bill did not fail to notice his victory. “Last January, in my State of the City speech, I announced that our Administration would seek to achieve a goal that had eluded the City for three decades: bringing legal taxi service to the 7 million New Yorkers who live outside Manhattan’s Central Business District,” Michale Bloomberg said. “Today, we have achieved that landmark goal – and it is a huge victory for all New Yorkers who have ever sought to hail a cab outside of Manhattan and in northern Manhattan. The new law and the agreement reached today will also generate a much-needed billion dollars in revenue for the City through the sale of 2,000 new yellow medallions, all of which will be wheelchair accessible. In fact, today’s agreement, by increasing the number of medallions sold by 500, will provide even more revenue for the City than the original bill passed in June.”
Despite the mayor’s pronouncements, by going over the head of the City Council, the mayor sacrificed some elements of New York City homerule. The state now must approve a Disabled Accessibility Plan that will “through the gradual phase-in of accessible vehicles to the fleet.” Without such approval, the state can withhold 1600 new yellow cab medallions — or the equivalent of nearly another $1 billion in city revenue. Meanwhile, current fleet owners, somehow alleging a reduction in the value of their medallions, may try to challenge this new law, but city officials do not expect that challenge to succeed. This new bill is not a government taking, and current yellow cabs don’t serve the areas targeted by this new bill.
So the winners here are the vast majority of New York City residents who live where those yellow cabs will not go. Even as transit service is cut back through reductions in payroll tax revenue, the city’s taxi network is expanding, and that should allow some more New Yorkers to give up their auto-centric lives. After three decades, this new bill legitimizes and expands a practice that has been ongoing, and New York’s transportation policy should be better off for it. It’s now only a matter of time before green, hailable livery cabs start competing with the city’s extensive fleet of yellow cabs for the hearts of New Yorkers.