Federal Court Rules New York Taxis In Compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act
On June 28, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned a decision by the New York City district court that mandated all new city taxis be wheelchair accessible. Several wheelchair users and advocates for the disabled had filed charges against Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) – the licencing body of New York City taxis – for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to ensure that all taxis are accessible. General Counsel for the United Spinal Association equated this decision to the Jim Crow laws of the South.
In this case, taxis are considered the tool, not the service provider. They are not a place of public accommodation like many disabled rights advocates argue that taxis are. The federal appeals court ruled that the TLC could not be held accountable for enforcing accessibility because taxis are a personal belonging.
As a tool to accomplish transportation, taxis do not fall under the category of the obstacle to receiving services. But taxicabs being a tool does not exempt taxi drivers from following the ADA. The ADA Handbook specifies that taxi drivers still must comply with the ADA even if the drivers are not technically employees of a cab company. Complying with the ADA means places may not discriminate against people with disabilities and may not deny full and equal enjoyment of the goods and services afforded by the place.
Under 49 C.F.R. § 37.29 of the ADA, discrimination includes refusing to provide services to disabled people who can use taxis, refusing to assist with the stowing of mobility devices, and charging higher fares to people with disabilities or for storing their equipment.
Davis summarizes these prohibitions as preventing people from making contracts based on genetic characteristics including disabilities. This definition means that only when taxi drivers refuse to make a contract with people with disabilities do they violate discrimination laws. But this definition never states that the means to provide transportation must be accessible.