Advocate group calls for more accessible cabs

By Gabriel Rom

New York City has sold only 350 of 2,000 proposed taxi medallions meant for wheelchair-accessible cabs and that’s largely Uber’s fault, the United Spinal Association contends.

The nonprofit sent a letter last week to a host of city and state lawmakers, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), accusing the growing Uber car service as stymying efforts to make New York City transportation options more wheelchair-accessible.

In 2012, New York state lawmakers passed legislation supported by Cuomo requiring 2,000 new medallions to become available for sale, each of which would have been for a new accessible taxicab. De Blasio endorsed making half of the TLC’s taxi fleet wheelchair accessible, during his first few weeks in office.

But the letter argues that Uber’s dominance in the city’s livery industry has sidelined the Taxi and Limousine Commission and its accessibility program along with it.

“Uber’s 15 percent expansion in New York City over the past four months means that millions more in potential funding will now be lost, further stifling the effort to put more wheelchair-accessible cars on the road,” the letter said.

United Spinal Association CEO and President James Weisman argues that these reform efforts have largely been for-naught due to the TLC’s radically reduced share of total livery trips in the city.

Currently UberWAV connects people who use wheelchairs to a number of accessible green taxis that can only make pickups in the outerboroughs and northern Manhattan, as well as yellow taxis throughout Manhattan.

“While the taxi industry has long resisted providing real options for New Yorkers with disabilities, Uber on its own created the most reliable accessible transportation option in New York City, uberWAV,” said Alix Anfang a spokesperson for Uber.

Koslowitz is a sponsor of a bill proposed by Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) that would mandate all taxicabs and for hire vehicles to be handicap accessible by January 2015.

“Before Uber started luring away tens of thousands of taxi drivers, New York lawmakers pledged to support the disability community by increasing the number of accessible taxis,” the letter said. “But Uber’s rapid expansion has thwarted these efforts, and its refusal to help fund accessibility programs has made the problem even worse.”

The letter urges lawmakers to draft legislation that would require Uber to provide wheelchair accessible service and to pay the same surcharges that yellow and green cabs do for their rides.

“The company’s profits are coming at the expense of a vital program to help the city’s 100,000 wheelchair users get the transportation they need,” the letter concluded.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

More from Around New York