Accessible taxis, no waiting

This Standard Taxi was designed by The Vehicle Production Group.

This Standard Taxi was designed by The Vehicle Production Group.

I’d just about given up having access to public transit and taxi service when I travel around the U.S. Then I visited Seattle.

Lo and behold, there was a wheelchair van in the taxi line outside the airport, and it charged standard rate. In a state of shock, I rode from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac in local-speak) to the Capitol Hill District near downtown Seattle, where I was staying. The only problem? Traffic!

Two days later I was scheduled to board a ship for an Alaskan cruise and called (the night before) for a cab to get me to the port. Mission accomplished! When the ship docked back in Seattle seven days later, a wheelchair van was in the taxi line outside the cruise terminal. Was this a dream? Apparently not.

My home community near Buffalo, NY (not one of the best areas for people with mobility issues) wouldn’t know an accessible cab if it rolled over nearby Niagara Falls. What passes as wheelchair transportation here is laughable. There are regularly scheduled public buses with wheelchair lifts, but few expect the lifts to actually work. I’ve heard about riders who were told to wait for the next bus because its lift would operate – maybe. In winter, it’s  often impossible to even get to the bus stop since sidewalks haven’t been shoveled after a big snow. Same goes for our “subway” system which travels from Point A nowhere to Point B nowhere.

We have a paratransit system, but potential riders first have to prove they’re disabled enough to warrant the service (which if you ask me, is just a tad demeaning). Once approved, passengers must sign up in advance for pick-up and drop-off. That might work for something like a scheduled doctor’s appointment, but not for much else. I don’t know about you, but my life isn’t that predictable.

I’ve used the for-profit wheelchair van service a few times, particularly after outpatient surgery. But the cost is exorbitant, and my insurance won’t pay for it. These services, in particular, seem to be a major rip-off.

In Anchorage, Alaska, according to a recent Associated Press story, “people with disabilities often have to wait a long time to get a cab, and delayed cab services have led to missed treatments or made it difficult to go out and buy groceries.” Sound familiar?

(Have you noticed how often it’s assumed that if you have a disability you automatically are a patient person, someone who would never complain about waiting? So not true.)

Anyways  back in Anchorage, city officials are considering a “proposed ordinance [that] would add two full-time inspectors to ensure handicapped-accessible cabs pick up people who need the service. Officials would also increase efforts to cite noncompliant companies and drivers.”

In other words, the city would crack down on cab companies that treat passengers with disabilities (and guide dogs) as if they don’t matter. As if they aren’t paying customers. As if they have all the time in the world to get to a scheduled appointment.

Why aren’t other cities cracking down, especially demanding that there actually is accessible tax service?

Why – all these years after Congress passed the ADA – is public transportation still such a huge problem? In so many U.S. cities, reliable public transit is spotty in terms of accessibility or non-existent. And accessible cabs? Just ask the advocates in New York City about the battle they’ve fought over that issue.

We need to get to our jobs and to stores for important things like groceries, and occasionally get out of the house to break the isolation and have a little fun. But if we don’t have our own specially equipped car or van, or someone to take us, how do we get from here to there?

You tell me. If you live in a city that has accessible transportation that’s reliable and easy to use, please tell us about it.

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