County Fine-Tunes Cab Fare Program

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006

Responding to complaints from senior citizens, county officials have made changes in a program designed to provide low-cost taxicab service.

The program, called Seniors-on-the-Go, or SOTG, was established by the Board of Supervisors in 2001 for residents 65 or older with an average income of $40,000 or less ($50,000 for couples). For $10, eligible seniors can purchase coupon books worth $30 and use them to pay cab fares.

Last year, Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock) and other board members said they had heard that some drivers refused to pick up passengers who planned to use the coupons. In other instances, cabs arrived late or not at all.

"They were not happy," Bulova said of the program participants who complained. "They said some of the taxi companies didn't want their business."

County staff members later learned that at least two cab companies were charging an administrative fee to drivers for processing Seniors-on-the-Go coupons, a practice officials said has been discontinued. The county also said that service to seniors will now be part of the criteria for awarding additional certificates, or operating licenses, to cab companies.

"We're watching it," said Gail Condrick, director of the county's Department of Cable Communications and Consumer Protection.

Four cab companies, comprising a total fleet of about 575 cars, are licensed by Fairfax County: Springfield Yellow Cab, Fairfax Yellow Cab, Falls Church Yellow Cab and White Top Cab.

Cab operators said that they try to provide good service but that seniors can pose special challenges. Ken Aggrey, general manager of White Top, said the assisted-living facilities where some seniors live are often large buildings with multiple entrances, which can lead to mix-ups.

Board members also asked county officials to determine whether cab companies had enough cars that could accommodate wheelchairs. In a memo to the board late last month, Condrick said the fleet's 23 wheelchair-accessible cabs were adequate. A study of dispatch records from September showed that of 175,000 calls for service, 754 included requests for cabs that could handle wheelchairs -- an average of a little more than one trip a day per accessible cab.

Condrick added in the memo that Fairfax residents with disabilities have other options, including wheelchair-accessible Metro stations and trains, and nearly all of the 375 Metrobus vehicles that service the county.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company