United Spinal and Disability Advocates Score Victory for Taxicab Wheelchair-Accessibility

| November 14, 2012

In December 2011 District of Columbia City Council member Mary Cheh released the DC Taxi Service Improvement Bill. The City set out to make sweeping changes to a taxi system that shuttles millions of residents, everyday workers, and high level politicians alike.

While the Bill sought to increase the number of wheelchair accessible taxis, the increase was minimal. There was no plan for future increases or how to make the system 100% accessible; hardly adequate for the millions of DC residents who make use of accessible public transportation already, and for the 1.6+ million independent Americans who use wheelchairs who may visit or do business in the Capitol.

Fortunately, United Spinal Association, along with other disability advocacy organizations including the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human rights (LCCR) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), were paying attention. United Spinal and friends contacted the DC City Council (effectively a city and state) to let them know that access to transportation is a civil rights issue. Taxis and transportation services should be accessible to all.

After countless phone calls, letters, numerous meetings, hearings and testimony, the council could no longer ignore the voices of the disability community. Council Member Cheh and the Transportation Committee agreed to require an increased percentage of wheelchair accessible taxis. In addition, we won a seat at the table. A Disability Advisory Committee will be established that will submit a report on the state of taxi services and best practices in DC and elsewhere, and ultimately, “to craft a plan on how [DC] can create a fully accessible taxicab system.”

Requiring a percentage of taxicabs be accessible is not the solid gold victory United Spinal and other disability advocates were hoping for, but it is a first step. Proposed regulations are already recommending that Sedan-for-hire companies be required to maintain at least a percentage of accessible vehicles in their fleets. Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton stated in a recent public hearing, “I personally believe that all taxicabs licensed by the commission for the purpose of street hails should be wheelchair access …”.

The disability community’s hard work and advocacy is paying off. The Taxicab Commission and City Council recognize that people with disabilities are a constituency to be taken seriously, that must be included in transportation policy from now on.

Accessibility Victories in the Taxi Service Improvement Act

• A Disability Taxicab Advisory Committee will advise the Commission on how to make taxicab service in the District more accessible to the disabled. Members or representatives of the disability advocacy community will comprise at least half the committee.

• In Mid February 2013 the Advisory Committee will publish a comprehensive report on a wide range of topics relating to accessible taxis, including: the need for accessible taxis in the District, how other local communities are providing accessible taxi service, a plan to increase accessible taxi financing methods, and how DC can achieve a fleet of 100% wheelchair-accessible taxicabs.

• Until that 100% goal is reached, Taxicab companies with more than 20 cabs in their fleet are now required to dedicate at least some portion to wheelchair accessible taxis: 6% by December 31 2014, 12% by 2016 and 20% by 2018.

• Drivers will receive training on how to operate the equipment and work with passengers.

• Unless a driver has a fare, if a prospective passenger using a wheelchair is hailing a cab, the driver must stop and offer them a ride. If the driver is not driving an accessible taxi, but works for a company that has those taxis in their fleet, they must ask if the prospective passenger wishes to have a dispatch service called to send an accessible taxicab.

Share Your Taxi Stories & Ideas

United Spinal is committed to working towards 100% accessible transportation nationwide. We want your stories about access to transportation and taxi services where you live.

• Do you have a taxi system that works for you? If so, how does it work? How is it funded?

• Have ideas of your own?

• Do you find that taxi services are seriously lacking?

• Are you routinely passed by or told there are no taxis for a person using a wheelchair?

• Have any horror stories you’ like to get off your chest?

Share your story and we’ll compile what we hear and use it in our advocacy efforts here in DC and across the country. Contact Carol Tyson, United Spinal’s Policy Associate at 202-556-2076 ext. 7104 or email: ctyson@unitedspinal.org.

Carol Tyson
Policy Associate
United Spinal Association

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