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NYC's Disabled Can Now Call A Cab Without Wave Or Whistle

Friday, September 14, 2012 - 05:36 PM

There are only 233 taxis with ramps in NYC. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Handicapped New Yorkers now have several ways to hail a wheelchair-accessible cab--no whistle or wave necessary—as long as they're in Manhattan.

The city has launched a dispatch system that lets disabled riders summon one of New York's 233 wheelchair-friendly cabs by telephone, text, the internet, or a free smartphone app called “Wheels on Wheels.” Until now, the only way to catch a cab with space for a wheelchair was by calling New York's helpline, 311.

The "Accessible Dispatch" app allows a disabled rider to request a taxi from a dispatcher in Connecticut. The dispatcher uses a GPS system to locate the nearest cab-with-ramp (see photos) and sends it to the rider, who can chart the cab's approach by phone.

When offered a trip, the cabbie must accept it within two minutes and proceed directly to the rider. The dispatch service pays drivers for that travel time. Yellow cab medallion owners pay $98 a year to fund the program; no tax dollars are used.

An alternate design for wheelchair-accessible NYC taxi. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

The fare is the same as for any cab ride. Drivers must take a disabled rider anywhere in the five boroughs, Westchester and Nassau Counties, and the three major area airports. Riders must be in Manhattan if they want to use technological means to hail a wheelchair-accessible cab.

By city rule, regular yellow cabs can pick up street hails but aren't allowed to be dispatched. The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission is making an exception for disabled riders--and the Wheels on Wheels app.

But with so few cabs designed for handicapped riders, even a swift hail by app can result in a wait of up to 30 minutes when cabs are occupied or many blocks away. NY Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky conceded it was a problem at a Friday press conference in Manhattan. “Two-hundred and thirty taxis is too few,” he said of the wheelchair-accessible cabs. “We’re going to have to put new cabs on the street.”

Early this year, the New York State legislature authorized the sale of 2,000 new wheelchair accessible cab medallions as part of a bill that would allow non-yellow cabs to take outer-borough street hails. That law is now tied up in the courts. Until the matter is resolved, the new medallions sit in limbo.

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