Sunday, July 19, 2015

New York and the Taxi of Tomorrow.

When you don't follow the news, sometimes you get surprised. But here goes- The Taxi of Tomorrow will become standard in New York City after September 1st. Owners retiring their vehicles will be required to switch to the Nissan N200 and in limited number of cases other hybrid or wheelchair accessible cars. It's a big step towards increasing accessibility in the area, now if there was only a way to have certain Manhattan sidewalks and subway stations follow.... Those who follow my writings may remember, that while for most people New York is an exciting place full of character, adventure in culture, for me it's a mocking reminder of my own limitations. Places I can't get to and things I can't experience. Establishments with stairs, sidewalks without curb-cuts forcing you to go back a block without warning, and the underground rail that's accessible not where you need to go in and out but where it  let's you. During my first visit- in NYC and America- as neither I, my brother or his girlfriend could figure it out- we had strangers helping to carry me out to the surface. I've had hotels that I've booked that advertised as wheelchair accessible and they could have been for all we know- provided I could fly over a flight of stairs to get to the lobby. And in the middle of it all- cabs. In New York City you typically catch them as they drive by. I never had problems getting one coming from a hotel- when the staff just grabs one for me. Going back was always an issue. They see me by myself, they never stop. I guess they assume I'll require a lot of lifting or specialized equipment. In fact, my chair folds and goes into the trunk and I get into the seat all by myself, without anybody's help. End at the destination- I appreciate what they did for me so much- if they stopped when nobody else did, that I tip very well. But they don't know that and they just drive by. I guess they fear they hassle. Once, I tried to stop a cab for an hour and a half before actually contemplating rolling down for 35 blocks to get to my hotel. Yes, some type of mobility-inclusive regulation is welcome and very needed.  The ADA becomes a joke if people with disabilities can't get  anynwhere. So it might shock you to find that I was a bit surprised, when the Court of Appeals ruled the way it did. Being a lawyer means following the principles and the argument however you may feel about it personally. I have to say I've shared some of the concerns that the Taxi association that sued brought up. Is  Taxi and Limousine Commission  overreaching? Are they not regulating too much? Can they tell taxi owners what specific model to buy. And is- as much as I'd enjoy being able to get any taxi that I see going at me- this change prohibitively expensive- given that the cars are costly and the change will benefit a relatively small group of people.

What I think helped in pushing this through is the natural, gradual nature of the transition. There's no deadline, however down the line that all vehicles have to switch over by. The Commission regulates the taxi services. That's what it's for and that's what it did. I'm still surprised that it opted for a specific model and not a set of criteria that a car would have to meet. Taxis are a heavily regulated segment in NYC, locals rely on it for every day commute. It's hard to not think of it as a service if not- utility.  You can't  drive in the city, not really and mass transit is not a viable option for many people. So - what did people with disabilities do to get around? Use a paratransit service ordered in advance? Or get in and out of the subway often blocks away from where they needed to be? Either way- NYC will become more wheelchair friendly over time as a more organic process. Originally I thought that the Commission would agree on a quota, a number - or a percentage. But then I thought that allowing but replacing all the cabs over time will create new groups of disenfranchised riders- that could use some things but not all things that the city offers while getting other owners off the hook. And that's not what the ADA is about. It's there to integrate, fully include, not create new lines of division. And allowing an uneven treatment of different categories of cabs would create a new set of issues. It doesn't matter how small the group may be that benefits from this. Part of the reason the ADA was passed is because the disability community didn't have the strength, the voice- to push for change effectively, fast enough and across the board without the government stepping in. And that's what happened to in a way. The Commission went in, regulated and imposed on everybody. Otherwise it would always be too soon, to expensive, or affecting too small of a population to ever happen. And now it's done. The debating and stalling is over, we can get to doing. Who knows: In a year or two I might visit NYC just to see how easy it would be to ride to Times Square for me.

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