Monday, December 6, 2010

Little PR may account for little demand for wheelchair-accessible cab pilot program in NYC

From the NY Daily News. In the picture, cab designer Davin Stowell shows off the wheelchair- accessible seat in a potential taxi model.

There's little demand for wheelchair-accessible cabs, according to a controversial draft report that could affect which model taxi is picked for the entire fleet.

Wheelchair users took 5,800 trips during a two-year pilot program that allowed disabled passengers to telephone for cabs, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission report.

The TLC spent $1 million in City Council funds on equipment and other expenses for the program - meaning each trip cost $172.

"While wait times and completion rates for the pilot program were quite satisfactory, usage of the program was still relatively low and not very cost-effective," the report states.

But an advocate for the disabled, Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan), blasted the report and its findings, claiming the program itself was botched and "designed to fail."

Portraying the pilot as a costly flop, the TLC report recommends the agency establish an improved dispatching system. Of the 13,237 yellow cabs, 240 - about 1.8% - are wheelchair accessible.

"Our current belief is the existing 240 medallions are sufficient to meet demand," the report states. "They simply need to be deployed more effectively."

Kellner, though, contends the best way to improve mobility for the city's estimated 60,000 wheelchair users is to make the entire fleet wheelchair-accessible, particularly because much of the subway system is not an option for wheelchair users.

If there was low interest in the pilot program, it's because the TLC did next to nothing to advertise it, Kellner said.

"No one knew about it," he said.

The report's recommendations lead Kellner to believe that the TLC is leaning against picking a wheelchair-accessible cab as the winner of the "Taxi of Tomorrow" competition.

Early next year, the TLC is expected to select a single model for the fleet, which is now composed of 16 different types of cars, vans and SUVs.

The goal is an "iconic" cab that is fuel-efficient, durable and comfortable, officials have said. Ford recently stopped making the Crown Victoria, now the first choice of most medallion owners.

Ford, Nissan and a Turkish manufacturer called Karsan are the finalists, but only Karsan's model is wheelchair-accessible.