Everyday Advocacy: Accessible Van Rentals

Michael_CollinsQ. I travel extensively throughout the United States to visit clients who are often located in rural areas. My disability requires me to use a power scooter, so I have run up against problems when seeking out transportation options that will allow me to travel beyond the destination airport by myself. I can drive with hand controls, but that doesn’t do me any good if it requires the assistance of someone else to load and unload my scooter.

I have been unable to find mainstream vehicle rental companies that provided any type of wheelchair-accessible vans, which makes it difficult to travel independently with a scooter. I know that there are specialized companies that will rent adapted wheelchair vans, but many of my destinations are located far from major cities where these companies may not provide service. The other problem with renting a wheelchair van is the price difference, as they are more expensive than renting a non-accessible van from a mainstream rental car company. The difference might vary by over $100 per day. Are there any options available to me that I am overlooking?

   — Stranded

A. You are not alone in the frustrations you face when seeking to find accessible transportation from mainstream car rental companies. I contacted six large rental car companies and found that none of them have vans with lifts or ramps available. All of them state that they will provide hand controls at many of their airport locations with an advance request, but in this age of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it was a bit surprising to find that wheelchair-accessible vehicles were not on their lists of available rentals.

The good news is that those specialized companies you mentioned will provide the vans we need when traveling, and I’ve taken advantage of that service in the past, as have many of my friends. However, these rentals don’t always come with the same convenience as enjoyed by our fellow travelers who simply get off the plane and pick up the keys to a rental vehicle at one of the rental car counters found at most airports. Wheelchair van rentals always require advance reservations and there may be limited vehicles available or a charge involved with having them moved so that they are available at a location away from a major city.

The higher prices being charged are likely due to the fact that the specialized van rental companies have to invest more money in the initial vehicle purchase, and they have fewer potential rental customers available to recoup their investment in the vans.

The Department of Justice has accomplished much in their efforts to bring rental car companies into compliance with the ADA, which is why hand controls, accessible car rental shuttles and accessible parking spaces at rental locations are now available. Modified vans are now readily available from a variety of manufacturers, and their cost is comparable to many of the larger pickup trucks, sports cars and other luxury vehicles that rental car companies purchase in order to attract customers. Adding some wheelchair vans to the major airport rental fleets would appear to make good business sense in today’s competitive environment.

Until all rental car companies begin offering wheelchair van rentals, there are a couple of steps you might take in order to find accessible vans you can rent at your scattered destinations. Expand your quest for an accessible vehicle to include all wheelchair van rental companies, just in case more than one is serving a particular region or prices vary. You can also check the website of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association to identify local van dealers near your destination to learn if they might rent wheelchair vans.

With the continuing problems rental car companies have when it comes to consistently providing hand controls upon request, the smaller specialized wheelchair van rental companies might still be your best bet. They will be very familiar with the vehicle and its operation, can make sure that what you rent will safely accommodate you and your scooter or wheelchair, and will respond with qualified personnel in the event of any trouble during your travels. The peace of mind that kind of service provides may be worth the higher cost of their rental vans.

Good luck with your travels, and I hope you’ll check back in with some success stories in the future.

Resources
• Accessible Vans of America, 888/595-5246; www.accessiblevans.com
• Wheelchair Getaways, 800/642-2042; www.wheelchairgetaways.com
• Wheelers, 800/456-1371; www.wheelersvanrentals.com
• National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, 866/948-8341; www.nmeda.com

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