MANHATTAN — The city was granted a temporary reprieve from a federal court ruling that prevented it from selling any new, non-handicap accessible taxi medallions or permits until it came up with a comprehensive plan to make its fleet comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The city was granted a stay pending appeal, and is scheduled to appear for a hearing April 19.
"The stay allows us to continue our work to bring quality taxi service to the four boroughs outside of Manhattan and northern Manhattan, and to persons with disabilities," said David Yassky, commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. "The administration is making historic progress in these areas, and we look forward to building on it."
In December, a lower-court judge ruled that the TLC was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it did not offer disabled riders "meaningful access" to taxis and demanded that the TLC draft a detailed plan for how it would comply with the ADA.
"Until such a plan is proposed and approved by this court, all new taxi medallions sold or new street-hail livery licenses or permits issued by the TLC must be for wheelchair accessible vehicles," U.S. District Court Judge George B. Daniels wrote.
A few days beforehand, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had signed into law a bill that authorized the sale of up to 18,000 street-hail permits to livery-cab drivers around the city, with 20 percent being handicap accessible.
It also allows the TLC to sell 2,000 new medallions strictly for accessible cabs.
At the time, disability advocates praised the ability of the bill and the court ruling to work hand-in-hand.
"The bill gives [the city] a year to present a plan," Julia Pinover, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case, said earlier this year.
The bill also provides a financial incentive for the city to move quickly, Pinover said, because it can only sell 400 of the 2,000 new taxi medallions until the plan has been approved.
For James Weisman, a plaintiff who is the senior vice president and general counsel of the United Spinal Association, news of the reprieve marked only the latest attempt by the city to keep taxis inaccessible.
That effort, he said, "limits transportation choices for people with disabilities, restricting employment, educational and recreational opportunities."
"New York state law requires a comprehensive plan for access to the taxi system for all New Yorkers, not just people who can walk," Weisman said.
The issue of taxi accessibility in New York City sparked controversy last year, when activists staged a "roll-in" protest against the city’s Taxi of Tomorrow, which is expected to one day populate New York’s fleet of cabs but is not accessible for people with disabilities.
In December, disability rights advocates claimed the city was obligated to make 100 percent of its taxi fleet accessible because cabs constitute public transportation in New York.
The judge disagreed on that point, but ruled that "meaningful" access to cabs for those with disabilities was required under the Americans with Disabilities Act — a decision advocates hailed as a victory.
Among the solutions the TLC has presented in the past is a dispatch system, which will allow those with disabilities to call 311 and request an accessible cab. That program is expected to launch some time this spring.