Jesse Lemisch protests inaccessibility of NY cabs

Historians in the News

[Jesse Lemisch is professor emeritus of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.]

With a knee problem and a chic all-black walker, I have found more and more New York City cabs inaccessible. The new hybrids are good for anti-pollution but are perilously high off the ground, with difficult sliding doors. Drivers are as helpful as they can be—many come from immigrant cultures friendly to older people—but, spotting my walker, many pass me by, knowing that I can’t safely climb in or out. So, as the taxi fleet moves more and more to hybrids, phasing out the more accessible, tank-like Crown Vics, I have found it harder and harder to get a taxi that I can use. At night, I try to calculate the height of approaching headlights, but I’m not very good at it. All in all, one of the glories of New York, mobility, is increasingly lost to me.

Subways, with only a sprinkling of elevators, are pointless: many of the elevators don’t work, so if you can get into the subway, you may ride forever neath the streets of New York without escape—it’s Charlie on the MTA. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the United Spinal Association has brought suit against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for inaccessible subway stations: “It is an absolute disgrace that twenty years after the ADA was passed, more than 80 percent of the subway stations in New York are inaccessible,” says attorney Julia Pinover.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission (hereafter, ironically, TLC), must have approved the design of the hybrid cabs. This is unspeakable, and may turn out to be illegal under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA exempts private cab companies). In a city with cut-out curbs, ramps and kneeling buses (which show that it's possible to design accessible hybrids), this is a surprising and unacceptable anachronism. Better designs should be developed and scrutinized, with accessibility as a criterion....

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