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New taxis must be disabled-ready: Liu

City Comptroller John Liu urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make the new Nissan "taxis of tomorrow" handicapped-accessible. Photo courtesy Taxi & Limousine Commission
TimesLedger Newspapers

City Comptroller John Liu threatened to reject a taxi contract between the city and car manufacturer Nissan, saying the designs are not handicapped-accessible, but the city Taxi & Limousine Commission and the city Law Department said Liu has no standing to do so.

“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,” Liu said in a statement.

With the discontinuance of Ford’s Crown Victoria, the model car used for the majority of the iconic yellow cabs, the city needed an alternative. After requesting proposals in 2009, Nissan’s NV200 design was chosen in May 2011.

The city’s website says the new cabs have multiple new safety and comfort features, including sliding doors, passenger airbags that work around the partition, passenger climate controls and flat seats. The cabs also have more luggage room, passenger charging stations and reading lights.

But Liu spokeswoman Stephanie Hoo said unlike London’s cabs, the vehicles are not required to be wheelchair-accessible. The legislation that created the new green taxis for the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan also required the selling of medallions for 2,000 handicapped-accessible yellow cabs, that 20 percent of the new green taxis would be handicapped-accessible and that grants of up to $15,000 be offered to retrofit vehicles.

Hoo said the comptroller wants to see all new cabs handicapped-accessible and that not to do so would be illegal under the American Disabilities Act.

“If it is not modified, the office plans to reject it,” she said.

Liu’s edict was not warmly received by the Law Department, which said the comptroller did not have the standing to nix the contract.

“The law limits the issues upon which the comptroller can refuse to register a contract,” Law Department spokeswoman Kate O’Brien Ahlers said in a statement. “None of the matters he raised today — including ADA compliance — would constitute lawful grounds for refusing to do so.”

TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg also said in a statement that even though not all of the new taxis are wheelchair-accessible, the organization is fully in compliance with the law and cited the additional handicapped-accessible yellow cabs and outer borough taxis that would be on the street.

“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,” he said.

Hoo said that since making the vehicles handicapped-accessible does not cost the city anything since the taxis are manufactured by Nissan and bought by drivers, there is no reason all vehicles should not be handicapped-accessible.

She also contended the city could save money by having all handicapped-accessible vehicles and ditching the Access-A-Ride program.

“Right now, it’s separate and unequal, and it costs extra money for that system,” she said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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