If you're one of New York's 800,000 disabled residents, the TLC has good news for you -- sort of. Earlier today, the city launched its Accessible Dispatch program, which lets disabled cab-seekers call, text, or use an app to request wheelchair-accessible cabs. The only problem? There are only about 200 accessible cabs for the entire city. And you can only get a ride in Manhattan. Oh, and expect to wait up to 30 minutes to get picked up.
"Two-hundred taxis is not enough to serve the wheelchair-using population," admitted TLC chairman David Yassky. today "We expect wait times in the 20-30 minute range, which is more than taxi-hailing passengers on the street experience." While the city hopes to have 2,000 handicap-accessible taxis on the streets sometime down the line, for now we're stuck with just 233—or, somewhere between one and two percent of cabs on the street. Compared to cities like London, where every cab is accessible, disabled residents in New York are stranded.
Wheelchair users do believe the on-demand service is a step up from the crippled previous system. "I was never able to get an accessible cab," Michelle Dufrey, a wheelchair-user, said of the old system. "It was virtually impossible to get around without the bus." But Dufrey went on, saying what chairman Yassky called a "first step" may not be enough: "It's abysmal" that there are only 230 accessible cabs. "I'm from New Haven, and we have 70 accessible cabs with a population of 135,000!" Yes, somehow we are bested in taxi service by New Haven.
The new dispatch system will be operated by Metro Taxi, a Connecticut-based company, which will track handicap-accessible cabs via GPS and dispatch the car closest to the requester. Accessible cabs will only originate in Manhattan, but will take passengers anywhere a regular yellow cab would. Charges to disabled riders will be the same as standard cabs, and the "deadhead"—the metered time between when a cab is dispatched and when it picks up the passenger—will be funded through a fee paid by all New York medallion owners.
Victor Calise, the mayor's Commissioner for People With Disabilities, who is disabled himself, said he hopes to one day be able to go on the street and hail a cab like anyone else—but, that won't be a reality until the city significantly increases the size of their accessible fleet: "There aren't enough [accessible] taxis on the street, and we have to make that happen." Thank goodness the city is so eager to make that happen.