The city has refused to force its taxi fleet to be completely wheelchair-accessible. Instead, it is starting a dispatch system for the disabled that is housed in Connecticut and NY1’s Courtney Gross got an exclusive look at the operation and filed this report.
About 90 miles from the city, in suburban West Haven, Connecticut, a dispatcher sends wheelchair-accessible cabs to riders like Ronnie Raymond, a wheelchair use in Manhattan.
“I should have that option, just the way you do,” said Raymond.
They have farmed the system out to a Connecticut company, MetroTaxi, where dispatchers monitor accessible cabs from the station, watching their every move via GPS.
“People are used to dialing 311. They’ll simply work their way through the system to order an accessible taxicab and that will just transfer that number up to here,” said William Scalzi of MetroTaxi.
It is the city’s second attempt to start a dispatch system for the disabled. The first try at a system, four years ago, was a complete failure.
“There was a lot of miscommunication,” said Victor Calise of the Office For People With Disabilities.
This time, for the closest available driver to the disabled caller, a message will pop up showing where to go. That driver has to take the ride or face a fine.
The system is paid for by the cab industry. Cab drivers are being reimbursed for the time it takes to accept a dispatch and arrive at the passenger’s location.
“The taxi industry has not been accessible to people in wheelchairs. We’re fixing that,” said Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky.
For first around, it took a half hour to get a ride. The TLC hopes to cut that by more than half.
The system was really used, averaging eight rides a day.
In Connecticut, by 10 a.m. Friday, they had 12 calls logged. Albeit, the program is still being tested.
“We’ve had people get cabs in five or 10 minutes. We’ve also unfortunately had people wait a half-hour, because we just didn’t have a trained available cab in the area,” said Scalzi.
It may come down to the number of accessible cabs. The city has pledged to sell 2,000 new accessible medallions, but that plan is currently tied up in state court.
Right now, the city has only 233 accessible cabs. Passengers like Raymond remain cautiously optimistic.
Neither TLC or MetroTaxi have a specific launch date for the dispatch system. They do say it should be up and running in the next few weeks.