NEW YORK—Disabled New Yorkers have a notoriously difficult time with transit in the city, a problem the Taxi and Limousine Commission has sought to address with the unveiling of a new application and dispatch service.
The service will let disabled people summon a taxi through texting or calling, via the Internet, or through a smartphone application (app), with estimated wait times of 20 to 30 minutes.
Connecticut-based Metro Taxi provides the application and dispatch service, called Accessible Dispatch. The company announced the launch of the app Friday, Sept. 14, outside Madison Square Park.
William Scalzi, president of Metro Taxi, said it’s a “very robust system” that lets users see where taxis are in real time, and includes monitors in the taxis that let drivers quickly accept a summons.
The app is for trips originating in Manhattan, not the other four boroughs, but trips can end anywhere in New York City, and Newark Airport. Drivers will not know where the disabled persons are traveling to before pickup.
Drivers will be paid for the “deadhead miles,” or the distance they drive on the way to a pickup, through a fund all taxi owners pay for.
Accessible Dispatch will work 24 hours a day and seven days a week with the 232 wheelchair-accessible yellow taxis in the city.
Officials called the initiative an important step but acknowledged more needs to be done to serve the disabled community.
“Wait times might lag” if the service is heavily used, said David Yassky, commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).
The disabled community doesn’t see the new dispatch application as good news. Edith Prentiss, chair of the Taxis For All Campaign, said the issue masks a larger civil rights issue that denies disabled New Yorkers equal rights, since they can’t hail a taxi like the nondisabled.
“It’s not equal service for my tax dollars, for my fare, for anything,” she said.
Jean Ryan, of Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York, said, “When I see 500 taxis going past me, I want to stick out my hand and say, ‘Taxi.’”
“I don’t want to call a special number and wait 20 minutes or more [for a taxi] to pick me up and get where I’m going,” she added.
Transportation for the disabled community has been a complex issue for the TLC and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the regional entity that runs the subway, buses, and some railroads.
A lawsuit from disability advocacy groups last year attempted to force the TLC, which governs the city’s taxi industry, to make all new taxis wheelchair accessible. The case was won at the district level but later struck down in the Federal Court of Appeals.
Commissioner Yassky said more wheelchair taxis are coming when 20,000 new taxis hit the streets. But the plan, which proposes adding 2,000 yellow taxis, all wheelchair accessible, and 18,000 outer-borough taxis, 20 percent mandated wheelchair accessible, was recently ruled unconstitutional by a state Supreme Court judge. The judge said the state government, which approved the plan, wrongly bypassed the city government.
The city’s law department is working on filing an appeal. Yassky said there are backup plans—including providing more wheelchair accessible cabs—if the appeal doesn’t go through, but that “we’re not going to need them.”
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.