While the Nissan NV200 will be equipped with a panoramic roof, a USB charging outlet and 12-volt plug, it is not wheelchair-accessible, unlike cabs in some other cities, including London.
Slamming the omission as a violation of civil rights, Liu said that, unless the city reverses course, he will refuse to sign off on the city’s contract, effectively derailing the plan.
“Requiring cabs to have independent passenger climate controls is nice, but when you fail to make them accessible to a growing number of New Yorkers, it’s not just a slap in the face, it’s illegal,” said Liu in a statement, arguing that the city was missing an "historic opportunity" to do the right thing.
“We will send back any plan that does not uphold the civil rights demanded by the Americans with Disabilities Act," he vowed.
In a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent Wednesday, Liu pointed to a December federal court ruling that said the TLC was acting in violation of the ADA by not providing accessible cabs. The case is currently in appeal.
Bloomberg has repeatedly argued that it would be impractical to make all city cabs wheelchair-accessible, because of the added cost and other issues with design. He has also said that hailing a cab on the street is dangerous and difficult for the wheelchair-bound — infuriating advocates.
In a sharply-worded statement on behalf of the city, the TLC slammed Liu's threat, calling his actions "both mysterious and clearly ill-informed."
"It’s a simple fact that we’ve made more progress on wheelchair accessible transportation options in the past year than anyone has in the last three decades," spokesman Allan Fromberg said.
Fromberg said that Nissan is now in the process of producing a wheelchair-accessible version of the new taxi model, and said the city is set to make 2,000 new wheelchair-accessible medallion licenses available, as per an agreement with the state.
The city is also preparing to launch a new wheelchair-accessible taxi dispatch system in an effort to reduce demand for the MTA's notoriously slow and expensive Access-A-Ride program, he said.
The city's Law Department also slammed Liu, accusing him of "ignor[ing] his responsibilities under the New York City Charter" to further a political position, and arguing that he cannot legally reject a contract based on ADA compliance or other issues he raised.
"It is absurd to suggest that the City Comptroller should register a contract that is discriminatory and in violation of federal civil rights law," Deputy Comptroller Valerie Budzik said in response.
Disability advocates have long been furious over the city's choice for the new taxis, which are set to be phased in over the coming years.
“It rolls us back to the days before the Americans With Disabilities Act became federal law, two decades ago,” Edith Prentiss, chair of the Taxis for All Campaign said.
Assemblyman Member Micah Kellner said that the administration had blown an historic opportunity to transform the way New Yorkers get around.
“Sadly, his choice for the Taxi of Tomorrow — the Nissan NV-200 — will be remembered as the Cathy Black of taxis,” he said.
Bloomberg has long butted heads with Liu, whose 2013 campaign in currently under federal investigation for campaign finance fraud.
Less than two percent of the city’s 13,000 yellow cabs are currently wheelchair accessible, Liu's office said.