The city comptroller stepped into the debate over the accessibility of city taxis, vowing on Wednesday to reject the contract for a fleet of new yellow cabs unless Mayor Michael Bloomberg amends the deal to require all—not just some—be wheelchair accessible.
Comptroller John Liu said he would block the contract “as is” because it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. He promised to use all legal tools at his disposal to fight the contract if the mayor tries to bypass his office. Under the city charter, the comptroller can reject city contracts with vendors, but only under certain circumstances.
The city law department accused Mr. Liu of skirting his responsibilities as comptroller. “None of the matters he raised today—including ADA compliance—would constitute lawful grounds for refusing” to approve the contract, law department spokeswoman Kate Ahlers said in a statement.
Mr. Liu’s announcement comes months after the mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal that would boost by 2,000 the number wheelchair-accessible yellow cabs on city streets and offer incentives to current medallion owners who buy them instead of other taxis.
Currently, 232 of the city’s roughly 13,000 yellow cabs are wheelchair accessible. Mr. Liu’s announcement does not pertain to livery cabs.
“A TLC spokesman called Mr. Liu’s actions ‘both mysterious and clearly ill-informed.’”
The city is also fighting a federal judge’s ruling in December that it’s not doing enough to make yellow cabs accessible to wheelchair users. The suit was stayed by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing the city to move forward.
The city plans to convert all taxicabs to a single model: a van made by Nissan Motor Co. that is expected to begin hitting the streets in 2013. That vehicle isn’t wheelchair-accessible, but can be retrofitted to allow wheelchairs in and out.
Flanked by disability-rights advocates at the press conference, Mr. Liu said the city should have followed London, where all taxis can handle riders in wheelchairs, when picking the so-called Taxi of Tomorrow. “How can it really be the Taxi of Tomorrow if a growing number of people cannot use it?” he said.
Following the press conference, the comptroller’s spokesman, Peter Thorne, said Mr. Liu “will use every legal action available to ensure the contract does not move forward until it adheres to the ADA and makes yellow cabs wheelchair-accessible.”
A Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesman, Allan Fromberg, called Mr. Liu’s actions “both mysterious and clearly ill-informed,” saying the TLC is in compliance with ADA laws.
The comptroller’s office lawyer, Valerie Budzik, replied: “It is absurd to suggest that the City Comptroller should register a contract that is discriminatory and in violation of federal civil rights law.”
Assemblyman Micah Kellner, a Democrat who has hounded the Bloomberg administration to provide greater access for wheelchair-bound taxi passengers, supported Mr. Liu. Having agreed to standards that would require more accessible cabs, Mr. Kellner said, “Why would you then lock the industry into a vehicle that is not accessible?”