Comptroller John Liu rejected the contract for the city's Taxi of Tomorrow for a second time, striking a largely symbolic blow against a signature initiative of the Bloomberg administration just weeks before the cabs will begin hitting the streets.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mr. Liu said he refused to formally register the city's contract with Nissan North America Inc., because the base model of the new taxi doesn't accept wheelchairs. Mr. Liu, like advocates for the disabled, has asserted that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that the new taxis be accessible to those in wheelchairs, though a federal court has ruled in the city's favor.
"By mandating a 'Taxi of Tomorrow' that is not wheelchair accessible, the city has disregarded the civil rights of the disabled community," Mr. Liu wrote.The refusal to register the contract won't affect plans to introduce the new Nissan vehicle in October, spokesmen for the city said.
The city similarly disregarded a previous effort by Mr. Liu to reject the agreement last December. The administration told Mr. Liu it would proceed with the contract last month, a spokeswoman for the mayor said.
The vehicles have begun rolling off the assembly line at Nissan's factory in Mexico, the company announced last week. They are to become the uniform vehicle for virtually all of the city's more than 13,000 yellow cabs.
The Bloomberg administration believes the comptroller doesn't have the power to stop the contract from taking effect, an administration official said.
"The comptroller's letter has no practical implications," said Howard Friedman of the Law Department. "Nissan's contract for the Taxi of Tomorrow became effective last December, after the comptroller's illegal failure to register it. Nissan is now in the process of producing NV200s."
Still, the program faces continued legal hurdles, even as the Oct. 28 deadline for the first yellow cabs to begin converting to the Nissan approaches.
A state court judge in Manhattan will hear arguments later this month on a suit alleging that the Taxi and Limousine Commission exceeded its authority in mandating that owners purchase a single model. And advocates for the disabled have filed a motion in federal court asking a judge to require that the Taxi of Tomorrow be accessible to wheelchairs.
Along with his letter refusing to register the contract, Mr. Liu proposed taxi reforms of his own: a menu of new and expanded incentives designed to encourage medallion owners to take on the expense of converting cabs to accept wheelchairs, and to spur drivers to pick up passengers who use wheelchairs.
The proposed incentives would build off some programs already in operation. For instance, Mr. Liu proposed using revenue from the planned sale of 2,000 new yellow-cab medallions to finance "purchase grants" of up to $15,000, intended to cover taxi owners' cost of purchasing a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. The TLC has estimated that converting a Nissan for wheelchair use would cost about $14,000.
That same revenue, though, has been spoken for twice: It is also expected to help the city's budget. And Mr. Liu's proposals, which his office said were still being developed, don't explain how the cash incentives to get drivers to accept wheelchair passengers would be paid for.
Mr. Liu also proposed expanding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's program of offering prepaid debit cards to allow some paratransit customers to use taxis instead of vans when possible. That program has saved money, said Tom Charles, the MTA's vice president of paratransit, but it is a tiny fraction of the service provided.
"The plan provides for equality, incentives and choice," said David Pollack of the Committee on Taxicab Safety, which has opposed the Taxi of Tomorrow.