Over the past few weeks, New York taxis have dominated the transit headlines. Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally signed the livery cab hail bill, and wheelchair-accessible taxicabs took the spotlight. Despite the high costs of such access, the new plan calls for a steep increase in the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis. Meanwhile, a federal judge decided last week that New York City had to make its taxi fleet more accessible.
For regular subway riders, this news doesn’t seem to carry a big impact. It will be easier to flag down a cab in the outer reaches of New York City that do not enjoy regular yellow cab service, but outside of the money that should come the city’s way, it’s hard to see how these happenings could impact the MTA. They do, however, have the potential to solve a problem by reforming the way Access-A-Ride does business.
According to a report in Crain’s New York, the looming changes to the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s fleet could change Access-a-Ride for the better. Jeremy Smerd has more:
A year ago, the MTA launched a pilot program with the Taxi and Limousine Commission to test the theory that, because 80% of disabled riders do not use wheelchairs, the taxi fleet could handle much of the business now outsourced to private companies at an average cost of $60 per ride.
The program allows 400 riders to use a debit card to pay for taxi service. The passenger pays $2.25—the cost of a one-way subway ride—and the state picks up the rest of the tab. The agency estimates the program will save $34 a trip and, coupled with other changes, $66.2 million next year in paratransit costs. Advocates believe more savings—and better service for riders—would result from expanding the program to the outer boroughs, especially now that as many as 18,000 cars will be allowed to pick up street hails.
Advocates approached the idea of a dedicated debit card to use with livery cars nearly three years ago. They called it the Access-a-Card. But MTA officials balked at the idea because they worried that riders would take advantage of the program and drive-up costs, said Avik Kabessa, a member of the Livery Roundtable who was part of the discussions…The city is putting in place a dispatch system next year that would allow disabled riders to call 311 to get a wheelchair accessible taxi. But it remains unclear whether the Access-a-Ride debit-card pilot program will be expanded.
If the MTA can figure out a way to contain and reduce Access-A-Ride costs, they will gain a tremendous amount of financial flexibility. It often flies below the radar, but the ADA-mandated program costs the authority a few hundred million dollars a year. It’s not a particularly efficient program either with the cost per rider far exceeding that of even the most wasteful bus lines.
As the city gears up to address issues concerning taxi accessibility, TLC officials should work with the MTA to ensure cooperation on cost-reduction measures. The opportunity is there. Now, it’s just up to someone to seize it. Those New Yorkers who rely on the subways would reap the benefits, and those who use Access-A-Ride would find a more flexible and personal system at their disposal.