U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is weighing in on the accessible taxi debate in New York City.
Harkin held a hearing called “The Americans with Disabilities Act and Accessible Transportation: Challenges and Opportunities” November 17th to reflect on recent developments including a class action discrimination lawsuit by the Taxis For All Campaign against the City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).
The Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee sponsored the hearing where experts in the field were invited to speak.
Harkin opened the hearing by discussing high rates of unemployment among people with disabilities, which he linked to shortcomings in U.S. public transit systems in the areas of subways, taxis, trains and shuttles.
Harkin went on to criticize the TLC for choosing an inaccessible vehicle for its “Taxi of Tomorrow” to replace 13,000 vehicles over the next ten years. “I think it is a throwback to pre-ADA America that the City thought it was okay to make access optional when they held a contest to make the Taxi of Tomorrow,” Harkin said.
“The MV-1 has the potential to become the standard taxicab of New York City,” Harkin added, calling the City a national leader in transportation that could influence other cities’ accessibility choices in the future.
David Capozzi, executive director of the U.S. Access Board in Washington DC said, “Mass transit accessibility has been one of the great success stories of the ADA,” but pointed to problems with ramps, lifts and announcements.
Capozzi said taxi accessibility “has not progressed much” in the 21 years since the ADA. “Going out and hailing a taxi in most cities in the U.S. is simply not possible,” Capozzi said, calling for nationwide incentives for purchasing more accessible taxis.
Marca Bristo, founder, president and CEO of Access Living in Chicago talked about the impact of bus cuts following efforts to encourage paratransit users to take mass transit. “We’re now watching people leave main line to go back on paratransit because they have to wait for 4 or 5 buses until the wheelchair slots are available,” she said.
Bristo pointed out the importance of providing accessible mass transit to aging Americans. “Baby boomers are about to age into their disability. We have an aging community that’s going to want to use public transit…Taxis are a part of their plan,” she said.
Jill Houghton, executive director of the U.S. Business Leadership Network in Washington, DC said businesses cite transportation as a barrier to hiring and promoting people with disabilities.
Harkin noted the high cost of Access-A-Ride and the potential for the City to reduce that cost by increasing the number of accessible taxis, which are cheaper to provide and available as an alternative through a voucher system to customers.
Responding to recent comments by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in which he discouraged wheelchair users from hailing taxis, Harkin said, “…it just seems to me one of the last frontiers in transportation where there’s blatant discrimination and the sort of attitudes that somehow you can’t hail a cab, why can’t you?”
Harkin added, “This attitude that they can be optional, that’s got to change.”