For many years, Wheelchair Accessible Taxi (WAT) Advocates have been fighting the battle for increased accessibility. Recent hard fought victories in Toronto-100% WAT fleet in 10 years and New York City-50% WAT fleet by 2020 are milestones. In the past two years however, Wheelchair Accessible Taxi (WAT) Advocates have been on the sidelines in the wave of battles taking place in the industry and regulators war on often illegal Transportation Network Companies (TNC) such as Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and InstantCab. Edith Prentiss, Chair of the Taxis for All Campaign recently stated;
“It’s been a very long road here in New York City, but we’ve finally made substantial progress–and we’re looking to make more. A handful of other U.S. cities also now recognize the need for increased accessibility, but there’s still much more work to do, especially as new taxi apps that don’t accommodate the needs of people who are disabled increase in popularity.”
With their emphasis on disruption of traditional Taxi industries, these TNC’s in large part have ignored the wheelchair accessible community’s needs, and in some cases actually harming the wheelchair accessible community. After seeing many WAT drivers ‘defect’ to TNCs in San Francisco last year chasing incentives, large parts of the WAT fleet sat idle. With WATs being a crucial component in the City’s SFMTA paratransit system, the California Public Utilities Commission as of October 1, 2013 began a program to require the TNC’s to submit an Accessibility Plan that includes;
a. A timeline for modifying apps so that they allow passengers to indicate their access needs, including but not limited to the need for a wheelchair accessible vehicle. A passenger should be allowed to state other access needs, either from a drop-down menu with room for comments or through a field requesting information.
b. A plan for how the TNC will work to provide appropriate vehicles for passengers who specify access needs, including but not limited to a plan to provide incentive to individuals with accessible vehicles to become TNC drivers.
c. A timeline for modifying apps and TNC websites so that they meet accessibility standards. The relevant standard for web access is WCAG 2.0 AA.
d. A timeline for modifying apps so that they allow passengers to indicate that they are accompanied by a service animal, and for adopting a policy that service animals will be accommodated.
e. A plan for ensuring that drivers’ review of customers will not be used in a manner that results in discrimination, including any policies that will be adopted and any monitoring that will take place by the TNC to enforce this requirement.
Five TNC’s responded; Uber, Sidecar, Lyft, Instantcab and Tickengo. The responses provided little more detail than the companies will ensure drivers don’t discriminate against disabled customers through training, and most already have or will make their apps and websites accessible to blind users.
Regulators and the Taxi Industry will continue to wrestle the TNC’s to ensure a level and legal playing field. In the meantime there is a bright light-a smartphone APP for Wheelchair Accessible Taxi users in limited areas –Wheels on Wheels the app used by Accessible Dispatch and powered by TaxiMagic will hopefully be rolled out across the industry.
Peter Schenkman is a former 9/11 Agency Priority Responder, Senior Bloomberg Administration Transportation Advisor and Asst. Commissioner at the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. In his current role as an Executive Transportation and Business Development Consultant Peter has more than 30 years of innovative technical environmental, accessible and operational leadership.