Home Paratransit Turning to taxis to save Paratransit costs

Turning to taxis to save Paratransit costs

by Benjamin Kabak

The MTA's Paratransit costs are expected to spike over the next few years. (Via Streetsblog)

As with many elements of the unfunded federally mandated ADA, the MTA’s Paratransit obligations are crushing its budget. As the above graph shows, the authority’s costs are skyrocketing, and last year, for instance, it paid out $451 million to provide door-to-door service for everyone who needed (and some who did not). Now the authority is turning to a taxi cab pilot program to save money.

Earlier this week, Jay Walder and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a 90-day pilot for Access-a-Ride customers that will enable these riders to take taxis at a discounted rate. By using Chase Pre-Paid Visa cards, the 400 Access-a-Ride volunteers will be able to hail any yellow taxi for pick-ups and drop-offs south of 96th St. in Manhattan. These customers are all ambulatory, and the MTA expects costs to drop from $49 a trip to $15 a trip.

“We are working every day to find new ways to help our disabled customers navigate the city, whether it’s through our 85 accessible subway stations, fully-accessible fleet of 6,000 buses or our paratransit services,” the MTA Chairman and CEO said. “This initiative recognizes that most Access-A-Ride users don’t need a wheelchair lift, and by targeting service to the needs of different customers within the disabled community we’re able to dramatically improve service and cut costs at the same time. For the first time, our disabled customers will be able to take regularly scheduled trips by hailing a yellow taxi and using a special, pre-loaded debit card.”

So how does it work? Chase and New York City Transit worked closely to calculate potential costs for a taxi ride, and Transit has loaded money onto these debit cards. The cards are dispatched to the 400 volunteers, and every two weeks, the customers will mail the MTA a check for $2.25 multiplied by the total number of rides they took. The authority will then reload the pre-paid debit cards.

The MTA expects to save between $155,000 and $200,000 a month in the first 90 days of the pilot alone, and if the pilot is successful this plan could expand to include more and more of the city’s disabled riders. “We first proposed this idea on the campaign trail last year and later incorporated it into our joint effort with the City Council to make New York a more age-friendly city,” the Mayor said. “We are now ready to deliver on our promise to offer Access-A-Ride users more convenience and greater flexibility — at a lower cost to taxpayers.”

David Yassky, head of the TLC, praised this pilot program as well. “Using the taxi fleet will give Access-A-Ride customers better service at a cheaper cost,” he said. “This is smart transportation policy by the MTA.”

While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it doesn’t address the problem of accessible subway travel. Due to valid concerns over cost, the MTA has been very resistant to the need to improve access underground. But that is just one of the ills of an unfunded federal mandate. The Access-a-Ride costs and debate over Key Stations might be a problem that rests on the MTA’s shoulders, but it starts in D.C. A taxi pilot is only the first step.

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Anon December 17, 2010 - 11:38 am

With the new accessible taxi vans coming down the pike, wouldn’t it make sense to replace all paratransit with this sort of system? It would be a great day for efficiency…

Chris December 17, 2010 - 11:55 am

To be fair to the federal government, the MTA and other similar organizations have never made a public effort to push back on these mandates. The reason for this is that while the ADA mandate is unfunded, the federal government funds plenty of MTA programs that aren’t part of any federal mandate – where, in fact, it’s unclear why the federal government would be involved at all in a logical world.

A world where the federal government funded its mandated programs only would be a world with billions less in federal money for the MTA.

Nathanael December 24, 2010 - 8:00 am

If all new taxis are wheelchair and scooter accessible, this might indeed save a lot of money on paratransit.

It still doesn’t deal with the fact that there is no form of paratransit which gives an trip time close to a long subway trip, so the MTA really needs to start making its subway stations accessible faster.

Scott E December 17, 2010 - 11:56 am

Do Access-a-Ride drivers customarily get tips? This could be an uncalculated hidden cost if it’s shifted to yellow cabs.

Benjamin Kabak December 17, 2010 - 12:44 pm

Tips are probably included in the $15-per-ride average for a taxi cab, and even if they aren’t, riders won’t be given out tips great enough to cover the $34 gap between costs of providing services.

Scott E December 17, 2010 - 1:59 pm

True, but if the cab-driver sees a disabled person, they may think to themselves “lousy tipper” and go to pick up a different fare.

SEAN December 17, 2010 - 2:55 pm

If the MTA uses taxis for paratransit service, the drivers could NOT do what you described do to it being a federal violation of the ADA. The penelty would be quite serious & all drivers would be notified of this policy. So who cares if disabled passengers are bad tippers. It is far preferable then being sewed for a ADA violation.

pete December 18, 2010 - 2:51 am

There is no such thing as an ADA violation or a TLC violation. You can never prove why the taxi driver didn’t stop. And to get rid of a TLC hearing, where the complaint/rider must show up in person to testify, is to file a motion that you will be out of the country for the hearing date. Do this every time, for years if need be until the rider gives up and the case is dismissed.

Chris December 17, 2010 - 2:27 pm

I like that the MTA is thinking of ways to improve its efficiency, but who are the intended customers for this service? If they are ambulatory, what makes a taxi any more of an accommodation than mass transit?

Chris December 17, 2010 - 2:30 pm

(Also, I don’t mean to sound like an ass; I just don’t know what reasons there might be to provide for a taxi over mass transit…)

SEAN December 17, 2010 - 3:06 pm

Keep in mind that those who for the most part use Access a Ride are not able to take transit for one reason or another. It could be cognitive, physical or even geographical. So my advice to you & others is be careful before passing judgement.

pete December 18, 2010 - 2:55 am

Why should public transit provide door to door service? Why provide service to a building anyways? If the goal of paratransit service is to make “accessible” non-accessible public transit infrastruture, why don’t they only pick up passengers at non-accessible public transit infrastructure?

If you take any cholesterol medication, you qualify for access-a-ride, by your doc writing you have a heart condition and can’t walk more than X feet to the nearest public transit subway/bus stop. The system is a scam. If your truly sick, get Social Security, private insurance, or medicaid to drive you around.

Nathanael December 24, 2010 - 8:02 am

If the city & MTA had bothered to try to make the subway system accessible, they could provide for such people by providing them with taxi rides to the nearest accessible (with-short-walks) station at source and from the nearest accessible station at destination. Combined with the allowable increased charges and increased time, this would pretty much eliminate all scammers from the system. I believe this is what certain other systems *do*.

Of course, unlike every other city in the US, New York is not making a serious effort to make its subway stations accessible.

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