terry_moakleyI lived through an absolutely incredible week recently.

Late in the day on Tuesday, December 20th, I received a phone call from my friend and work colleague of more than 31 years, United Spinal Association Senior Vice-President Jim Weisman. He was close to home on his return trip from Albany where he helped to negotiate a wheelchair-accessible taxi bill for New York City. While it still has to be ratified by the State Legislature next month, Jim told me over the telephone that New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was the key person in the negotiation process.

Great work, Jim. And thanks, Governor Cuomo, for understanding that moving around Manhattan in a yellow cab is something that should be available to ALL citizens and visitors.

The agreement is fairly complex so I’m going to break it down to numbers that I can easily understand. Probably sometime in 2012 or early 2013, there could be up to 2,000 new yellow taxi medallions sold at public auction. All would have to be used only on wheelchair-accessible yellow taxis. Eventually, over a reasonable period of years, the entire yellow taxi fleet here will become accessible to all people with disabilities.

New York City has five “boroughs” (known elsewhere as counties). Our yellow taxis operate mainly in the borough of Manhattan south of 96th Street, and to and from Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. The taxis that operate in the northern part of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island are known as livery vehicles.

So, the aforementioned agreement also establishes a new type of livery vehicle called a “street-hail livery.” These vehicles, expected to number 18,000 over a period of time, will require a special operating permit that will allow them to both pick up street hails and accept requests for service via radio dispatch. A total of 20 percent of these vehicles, or 3,600 such vehicles, will need to be wheelchair-accessible street-hail liveries.

Later in the evening of December 20th, I searched the Governor’s website and I found a release used for the earlier press conference, with a link to a video of it. Jim Weisman was the first speaker, and his was the shortest and best speech. He thanked the Governor for his hands-on involvement; said that this was a good agreement for the world-class city that is New York City; and, concluded by mentioning that it will benefit disabled people, veterans and the aging population.

I might be putting words in my friend’s mouth, but I don’t think so. It doesn’t matter who you are now. If you are a person with a disability today, veteran or non-veteran, the advantage of an accessible taxi and livery system in New York City is obvious. And if you are not a veteran or you don’t have a disability, and you live here or you don’t live here, if you live to be an aging person, you may one day need on-demand access to taxi and livery service, too. It is the beginning of the aging of America.

One of the two other events that happened last week is that I changed age, so now I’m part of all three populations noted above.

Last but not the least, on Friday, December 23rd, the judge in a U.S. District Court case in Manhattan, in which United Spinal Association is one of many plaintiffs, granted our motion for summary judgment against the Taxi & Limousine Commission under one section of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, noting in part that persons who must use wheelchairs or scooters “are not provided meaningful access to the benefits of New York City taxicab service.” To me, this decision adds great credibility to the new State bill agreement.

Paying it forward? I want everybody in this country with a disability, or who works for or volunteers with an organization of persons with disabilities or veterans or aging Americans, to know about the agreement detailed above. If it happened here, it can happen anywhere. Pay it forward with me.

Terry Moakley
Chair of the VetsFirst Committee

Further Reading: Judge Rules NYC Taxis Violate Americans with Disabilities Act