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Opinion: An Accessible City For All

by Mel Wymore, Apr 17, 2013


If you've ever tried to hail a cab in Manhattan during rush hour, you know it can be frustrating. Add some rain, and it's almost impossible.

But the next time you find yourself fuming over the apparent dearth of cabs, remind yourself of this: of New York City's 13,000 cabs, only 233 are wheelchair accessible. They don't have the option of hailing a cab on a rainy day, or when running late, or simply when they need to get away from the hustle-and-bustle for a few minutes. 

We New Yorkers boast that our city is made for everyone, but we fall short when it comes to accessibility.  Too many of our streets, sidewalks, playgrounds, places of business, and modes of transportation are difficult to navigate from a wheelchair, or even a walker.  As a longtime advocate for accessibility on the West Side, I strongly support Councilman Oliver Koppell's long overdue bill to replace every retiring taxi in the fleet with a new wheelchair-accessible model. 

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In addition to having a fleet that is entirely wheelchair accessible, we need to keep improving and expanding the Accessible Dispatch Service, a pilot program that allows people with disabilities to call for an accessible cab. Rather than endure the excessive wait-times and high costs associated with Access-A-Ride, we could move to one taxi service that effectively serves all of us. 

Comprehensive accessibility would not only improve the lives of disabled people, it would make our city better for everyone. People who use walkers, strollers, shopping carts, and luggage rollers will all have an easier time getting around. Businesses would benefits from new customers. The city would benefit from more tourists. And as our resident population ages, people would find it easier to stick around.

I am pleased that there appears to be momentum in the City Council to move toward a more wheelchair accessible taxi fleet. It's a great step toward living up to our promise: that New York is truly a city built for everyone.

Mel Wymore is co-founder of Citizens for an Accessible West Side and a candidate for New York City Council, 6th District, Upper West Side. Image by May Michaely, used under Creative Commons license. 

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