Thursday, December 4, 2008
Accessible Taxi Dispatch Program Needs Users
Almost two decades ago, disability advocates went to then-Mayor of New York City, Edward Koch, to obtain his support for the proposed program to make New York City's public bus system wheelchair-accessible. To everybody's astonishment, Mayor Koch, who had a legacy of liberalism and progressivism, was not supportive. The reason Mayor Koch objected to the accessible-bus program, which would equip each bus with a motorized wheelchair lift, was not because the mayor was not sympathetic toward people with disabilities [PWDs]. He objected to the costly modifications because he believed PWDs would not use the accessible buses, and the expense would be for naught. Moreover, he was afraid that able-bodied riders would object to the extra time spent to get a PWD boarded, and would resent the new system, and the PWDs.lifts ta Koch feared the resulting backlash of able-bodied riders venting anger toward PWDs would be counter-productive, and cause increased alienation and isolation of PWDs.
Several years later, Ed Koch had to admit that he had been mistaken. The accessible-bus program became a success. Today, every MTA New York City bus is equipped with a motorized ramp. It takes very little extra time to board a wheelchair, and the able-bodied riders rarely exhibit annoyance. As a PWD myself, I am amazed at how efficient this system is. At the beginning, I understand there were growing pains -- broken lifts, or bus drivers who claimed their lifts were broken out of laziness or resistance -- often leaving PWDs in wheelchairs waiting for several buses. But I have had nothing but efficiency and friendly, gracious bus drivers.
Now, there is a new program in place. New York City has an ever-growing fleet of wheelchair-ramp-equipped taxis, pictured at this link PWD advocacy groups are trying to get more fleet owners on board to replace old taxis with newer accessible models. Formerly, it was very difficult to find an accessible taxi to hail from the street. But now there is a dispatch program in place. A PWD can now call 3-1-1 and ask for the accessible taxi dispatch. The call will then be routed to an appropriate dispatcher, who will send out a ramp-equipped taxi. According to a statement from the Disabled Network of New York City [DNNYC] this week "Arguments against adding more taxi and livery services for riders with disabilites have long been based on the low numbers of people using existing services. Based on the figures available, taxi and livery drivers assert that providing taxi service to PWD's cannot be profitable. Ridership of PWD's for the recently launched wheelchair accessible taxi project is below projected levels." So, in order to make this accessible-taxi program viable and profitable, PWDs have to make a concerted effort to use the accessible taxis through the new 3-1-1 dispatch system. Eventually, New York City hopes to be like London, England, a city where every taxi is equipped for wheelchairs.To read more about the Accessible Taxi Dispatch Program, click here.