This federal class action lawsuit was filed against New York City and the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) in January of 2011 to address the severe lack of wheelchair-accessible taxis in New York City. When the case was initiated, 231 of the City’s 13,437 yellow taxis – just 1.8% – could accommodate wheelchairs. Taxis are a critical transportation system in New York City. Locals and visitors alike rely on them for business, leisure, and emergency transport, and for individuals with mobility disabilities, lack of access to this system posed a significant barrier to participation in every aspect of life in the City. The Plaintiffs in the case did not seek damages, demanding only access to this vital transportation network.
Plaintiffs prevailed in federal district court on Dec. 23, 2011, with the Court ruling that “As a direct result of the TLC’s policies and regulations . . . disabled persons are not provided meaningful access to the benefits of New York City taxicab service.” The Court further held that the TLC should create and enact “a comprehensive plan to provide meaningful access to taxicab service” for passengers who used wheelchairs.
The TLC appealed the decision, and on June 28, 2012, the Court of Appeals overturned in part the lower court’s ruling, holding that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not “obligate the TLC to use its licensing and regulatory authority over the New York City taxi industry to require that taxi owners provide meaningful access to taxis for persons with disabilities.” The case was then sent back to district court for further proceedings.
At that same time, New York City was preparing to drastically change its taxi system. The City held a competition to choose one vehicle model, which it called the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” that it planned to require all taxicab operators to buy and use for the following decade. The City ultimately selected the Nissan NV200, a van not accessible to wheelchairs, as its Taxi of Tomorrow. Plaintiffs prepared to challenge this choice on the grounds that under the ADA, a van used as a taxi must be accessible unless equivalent service is provided to people with disabilities. In July of 2013, Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment to decide this issue.
After oral argument on the Taxi of Tomorrow issue in October of that year, the parties entered into settlement negotiations. By December, Plaintiffs and the City had reached an historic settlement agreement with tremendous implications: The City would make its yellow medallion taxi fleet 50% wheelchair accessible by the end of 2020.
This settlement will make New York City’s taxi fleet the most accessible in the country and one of the most accessible in the world. It will set the standard for accessibility – a standard that is already beginning to be adopted elsewhere. In May of 2014, the Taxi and Limousine Commission approved rules that will make 50% by 2020 a reality. In June 2014, the New York state legislature was sent a plan to make New York City’s outer borough cabs – fleets not covered by the settlement – also 50% accessible. DRA also helped negotiate this outer borough plan.
On June 10, 2014, the District Court preliminarily approved the settlement agreement. Final approval is pending in August of 2013. Read the notice of class action settlement here. A hearing will be held in the fall of 2014 on final approval of the settlement.