There should me more wheelchair accessible taxis, plain and simple. Every city in the United States is different, with some having more accessible taxis than others. However there are often many issues with wait times, cost, and convenience because there just are not enough of them. Thankfully, cities like New York City are working towards providing better accessibility to the taxi services. However, there’s no national standard so if you travel frequently then you’re stuck researching accessible taxis wherever you go.
The taxi situation in Honolulu illustrates a common problem across the country — lack of accessible taxis within the fleets of the regular taxi companies. There are some, but not enough. Many of the large taxi companies contract medical transportation companies to fulfill taxi services. Unfortunately, even though this is legal, it creates a hassle for people who need immediate access to accessible taxis. You have to plan in advance — both your pick up and return trip. You have to deal with unexpected delays. You often have to pay more (even though this is not really legal). I’m sorry, but a 10 minute taxi ride should never cost $30.
In Australia, I was pleased to experience something totally different. In Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide, I had no problem arranging a wheelchair accessible taxi with little or zero advance notice. I didn’t even have to call a special number — you just tell them you need an accessible taxi. Two of the taxis were large vans with a lift. One was a smaller car with a ramp out the back. In all cases the taxis were also used for regular taxi services as well.
One of the main reasons taxi fleets are not larger in U.S. cities is that accessible vehicles are more expensive than non-accessible vehicles. While there are requirements for companies to purchase accessible vehicles if they are going to add new vans to their fleet, the company can always outsource like the ones in Hawaii and not have to pay for accessible vehicles at all. They can also buy used vans and circumvent the rule completely. It’s cheaper for them to do this, despite any existing tax credits and incentives.
There are many types and styles of accessible vehicles around the world — some of which don’t cost as much as a modified wheelchair accessible van. Unfortunately it’s difficult to get them into the country due to taxes and the cost of transportation. If we made some of these vehicles inside the United States, it might not be as expensive to add accessible vehicles to taxi fleets. Unfortunately the demand is currently low because there’s no real requirement to purchase accessible vehicles.
I am hopeful that more cities do what NYC is doing, if it’s successful. I just hope the changes in New York are as effective as is being promised.