Cab fares for some low-income elderly and handicapped residents of Montgomery County will be subsidized by the county starting next month, County Executive Charles Gilchrist announced last week.

The County Council approved $172,000 for the taxi program in the fiscal year starting in July. It will pay up to 75 percent of individual fares, and officials believe an estimated 500 residents will participate during the year.

Riders will be able to purchase a book of cab vouchers worth $20 from the county for a fraction of that cost. Participating taxi companies will be fully reimbursed by the county.

The subsidized fares will be available to elderly or handicapped persons who have "relatively low incomes," said William A. Keim, the senior management specialist for the county's transportation department.

The criteria for eligibility is being established by the county's department of family resources. Based on a sliding income scale, individuals will be able to receive 25, 50 or 75 percent of the fare costs, a spokesman said.

So far, four taxi companies have expressed interest in the program, Keim said: Silver Spring Taxi Inc., Barwood Cab Inc., Mobile Care Inc. and Ironsides Mobility Systems.

John Dimig, president of Silver Spring Taxi, said the program is a "much needed one" because many people "don't have an adequate means of transportation."

Gilchrist said the taxi plan is an extension of a county transportation program that provides transportation for residents who do not have access to automobiles and cannot use regularly scheduled public transportation.

He said that while "it is impossible to serve all of the transportation needs of the elderly and handicapped . . .the subsidy program is another attempt to meet those needs."

Keim said applications for the program will be made available later this month. Those found eligible will be issued identification cards by July 1, he said.