Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DC Council member Mary Cheh wants more wheelchair-accessible taxis in fleet

from DCist:

Outside the Wilson Building this afternoon, Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) showed off one of the city's relatively new wheelchair-accessible taxicabs ahead of a hearing next Monday at which the D.C. Council will consider a sweeping overhaul to the city's taxicab regulations.

Cheh, who chairs the Environment, Public Works and Transportation Committee, inspected the accessible cab, a 2010 Toyota Sienna minivan converted to incorporate a wheelchair ramp extending from its rear door. The van is one of 10 operated by Yellow Cab Company of D.C.; Royal Cab also operates 10 of the vans.

The accessible taxis were first deployed in May 2010 as a pilot program for wheelchair friendly livery service. The vans, which normally cost $33,000 plus another $12,000 to retrofit for accessibility, were paid for largely by a grant administered by the Federal Transit Administration. The grants, authorized in 2008, paid 80 percent of the cost of each vehicle, with the remainder assumed by the vans' operators.

But 20 cabs is a tiny fraction of the District-wide fleet of about 8,500 cars. Wendy Klancher, a transportation planner with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which oversees the pilot program, said that in most neighboring jurisdictions wheelchair accessible taxis make up one to three percent of fleets.

At the hearing next week, Cheh will also consider an amendment introduced last month that would mandate taxicab companies in the District make 10 percent of their fleets wheelchair-accessible. Cheh said that target could fluctuate, though. Klancher said three to five percent would be a good number to aim for.

"It may well be we should figure out the need," she said. "What I'm hearing is that five percent of fares may involve disabled [passengers]."

Roy Spooner Jr., Yellow Cab's general manager, said the pilot program has been a success, but he was unsure if there was greater interest among drivers in operating wheelchair accessible cabs. Right now, he said, Yellow Cab and Royal are giving between 400 and 450 rides a month to customers with wheelchairs.

One of the reasons the deployment of the vans has worked out so far is that in addition to the subsidized cost of the vehicles, drivers who ferry wheelchair-bound riders receive a $2 surcharge, paid for by the cab company and the grant program, to compensate for the fact that meters are not permitted to be turned on until the disabled customer is secured.