The city on Wednesday auctioned off 168 new taxi medallions, all of which will be wheelchair-accessible cabs, not only making life easier for the disabled but also giving a boost to the city budget. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
For the disabled, flagging down a taxi is near impossible. Until recently, just 232 of the city's taxis were accessible.
However, that number is growing, with 168 new accessible taxi medallions auctioned off Wednesday to the highest bidders.
"People with disabilities will have more options, and regular riders will just see 168 more cabs out in the street," said Conan Freud, chief operating officer of the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
The medallion auction drew about 300 bids altogether. Taxi and Limousine Commission staff opened them one by one, with each bid read aloud. A tie was broken using a bingo machine.
This particular batch of medallions was earmarked for individual owner-drivers. Many compared the opportunity to the difference between being a renter and a homeowner.
"If you lease from a garage or like a broker or something, you're paying the same thing," said Bazem Marsouk, who was a winning bidder. "So it's good to pay the same thing, but you own the medallion, than just throwing the money away."
New taxi medallions are rarely issued, so therefore, they're highly sought after. The highest bid Wednesday was $965,000.
"It's exciting," said Dimitrios Giannios, who was a winning bidder. "I mean, it's a life-changer, and it's everything that, you know, American dream. You get your own business."
The 168 new accessible taxis should be on the road within a few months, although even then, accessible taxis will make up less than five percent of the overall fleet. That will change dramatically, though, under a settlement announced in December between the Bloomberg administration and disability advocates, which would ensure that half of the overall taxi fleet becomes accessible by 2020.
Details, though, remain to be hashed out by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has yet to appoint a Taxi and Limousine chairperson. In the meantime, his budget will benefit from Wednesday's auction, which raised about $145 million.