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Disabled group sues after bus cut

David Heard was left a quadriplegic after an injury 15 years ago and has used a wheelchair ever since.

The Jackson Heights resident prided himself throughout that time period on being independent, taking trains and buses when he traveled throughout the city instead of relying on Access-A-Ride service.

One favorite bus was the Q74, which allowed him to travel from the Flushing-Main Street No. 7 train station to Queens College, where he liked to meet friends.

That came to an end when the MTA canceled the route in June. The Taxi and Limousine Commission replaced parts of it and four other bus routes in September with a group-ride livery van service pilot program.

The service has left wheelchair users like Heard out in the cold since the vans are not wheelchair-accessible.

“The American with Disabilities Act says listen, you’ve got to make a reasonable accommodation. If you see me at a bus stop and a van comes up to pick people up, I won’t be able to take part in that. They’ve excluded me,” he said. “If they’re going to accommodate able-bodied people, they should accommodate me.”

Heard has signed onto a class-action lawsuit against the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, saying that cutting service for disabled citizens but not the able-bodied is a form of discrimination that violates the ADA.

Heard, Manhattan wheelchair user Milagros Franco — who rides a motorized scooter to work in Brooklyn every day due to a canceled bus route — and the United Spinal Association filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn as plaintiffs representing the class of mobility-impaired people affected by the TLC’s changes.

The parties are seeking an order that the TLC comply with the act by fixing the inequities in service and that it pay all attorneys’ fees and “all other appropriate legal and equitable relief,” according to the suit.

“The purpose of these regulations is to make sure that this critical industry offers service to every New Yorker, including those in wheelchairs,” TLC Commissioner David Yassky said in a statement responding to the lawsuit. “We are committed to that principle and we will continue to enforce our rules.”

James Weisman, senior vice president and general counsel for the United Spinal Association, says it has a long history of legal victories on behalf of disabled people’s civil rights.

“If any other minority group were targeted, if they said the vans are only going to pick up white people, the TLC would never license them to do that,” Weisman said. “These people are going to work and paying taxes. When you take away their transportation, they are isolated and they become dependent on family and friends and government, i.e. taxpayers, for subsistence.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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