A two-year pilot program to link people with disabilities with accessible New York City taxis has concluded with limited customer usage.The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) announced at a recent State Assembly hearing that the Accessible Dispatch System pilot project provided 5,828 dispatches in two years, for a cost of $177 per call.
TLC Commissioner David Yassky said the pilot program did not indicate a large demand for unsubsidized accessible taxi trips. “What that says about the latent demand that may be out there and was not revealed by the pilot we’ll be opining on in our report,” he said.
The TLC received about eight calls per day for the service – far below the 250 calls expected, and only 2,701 out of 60,000 wheelchair users in the city utilized the service. The program did not include taxi rides paid for with Access-A-Ride vouchers that reimburse some paratransit riders for taxi trips.
“I think the biggest factor was given the availability of Access-A-Ride, and given the fact that many wheelchair users are on limited incomes, the demand for yellow taxi service is not large,” Yassky said.The $1 million program ended June 30. A final report on the results is expected later this summer.
Edith Prentiss, co-chair of the Taxis For All Campaign, attributed the low usage of the program to poor outreach and said calls to 311 were not successfully routed to the service. Drivers and passengers eventually communicated by cell phone directly rather than going through the program, she said.
“My favorite was when I called for a trip and they did not call to tell me I had a trip. So I gave up and took the bus to be called by a rather snotty dispatcher who said the driver’s been waiting for you, where are you?” Prentiss said.“Then there are the people who called to reserve a trip in advance and Dispatch never called them back to say they didn't have a trip,” she added.
Some drivers did not meet the program requirements. The TLC issued 4,444 summonses to taxi drivers who did not comply with the program training.Jean Ryan, a member of the MTA’s Paratransit Advisory Committee and the advocacy organization Disabled in Action, said she learned there were also a limited number of taxis participating in the program, and that drivers were permitted to refuse two calls per shift.
“Accessible taxis did not have to join the central dispatch,” she said. “Then, if taxis can refuse two calls a day, it makes it hard to get a ride. It reduces the pool even further.”Ryan also concluded that the people who had the most success with the dispatch system booked their rides far in advance, which runs contrary to the on-demand nature of a taxi ride.
“It's a taxi, and everyone else hails them!” said Ryan. “Car services everyone else can get to come to you in ten minutes! Why should we have to settle for hours? Or never? Or booking way ahead?”Terrence Moakley, vice president of public affairs for the United Spinal Association, said he did not see any advertising for the dispatch system.
“I don’t think the results prove anything, other than the Accessible Dispatch System was designed to create failure and low numbers,” Moakley said, noting the allowance for drivers to turn down accessible trips.The TLC recently issued a Request for Proposals for its Taxi of Tomorrow initiative as part of an effort to eventually operate a 100 percent accessible fleet. The TLC’s fleet of 13,237 taxis currently contains 240 accessible vehicles.
The State Assembly has proposed two bills to speed the process. One bill, introduced by Assemblymember Adriano Espaillat, calls on the TLC to operate 1,000 accessible and environmentally sound taxis within six months of the bill’s passage. The second, introduced by Assemblymember Micah Kellner and Senator Tom Duane, would require the TLC to have an entirely accessible fleet by June 2012.James Weisman, senior vice president and general counsel for the United Spinal Association, spoke in support of Kellner’s bill at the hearing.
Weisman said many people with disabilities would prefer to use taxis instead of Access-A-Ride if all new cabs were accessible, in order to make plans without the requirement for an advance reservation. This, he said, would reduce the budget for Access-A-Ride, which is more expensive than a taxi trip.“Workers in New York City, even those who use transit, occasionally use taxis. Workers with disabilities will too. The demand for accessible taxis will continue to increase as baby boomers age, desire to remain active, and live longer than any generation that preceded them,” Weisman said.
Moakley agreed, saying, “I believe strongly that the more accessible taxis there are in New York City, the less pressure there will be on demand for Access-A-Ride trips.”In calling for an entirely accessible taxi fleet, Weisman said, “The word ‘taxi’ would mean ‘accessible taxi’ the same way the word ‘bus’ means ‘accessible bus’ in New York City today.”
An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the August 2010 issue of Able News.