The Northern Virginia Planning District Commission and Fairfax City officials have begun a program designed to provide convenient and inexpensive transportation for the area's disabled residents.

The program, called Fare Wheels, provides either a taxicab or special van to any Fairfax City citizen who is mentally or physically disabled and is unable to use the community's local CUE bus system. Arlington County and the City of Falls Church already operate similar services for their residents.

Richard Fruehauf, Fairfax City's director of transit and utilities, said officials are offering the Fare Wheels program to residents instead of buying new wheelchair lifts for the city's eight public buses, as considered earlier by city officials, because of convenience, cost and safety.

"The wheelchair lifts don't get used that much and they malfunction a lot of the time," Fruehauf said. "For the handicapped citizen, the Fare Wheels service is more beneficial . . . . It's more a door-to-door arrangement. Sometimes it's difficult to get from wherever the person is to where the CUE buses run."

Purchase and installation of the special wheelchair lifts would have cost the city nearly $20,000 per bus. The City Council recently allocated $24,000 in its current fiscal 1987 budget to subsidize the Fare Wheels program for one year.

Fare Wheels participants pay $6 for a book of coupons worth $20, which is used instead of cash to pay the taxicab fare. The coupon book enables a rider to take six one-way taxicab trips around Fairfax City, where the average cab fare is about $3.30.

Under the coupon system, a person pays for taxicab rides with the Fare Wheels coupons. The driver then turns those coupons in to the taxi company, which is reimbursed for the face value of the coupons by the city.

The coupon books are available by mail from Fare Wheels' main office in Arlington County. Users can buy as many coupon books as necessary.

Penny Grabb, who created Northern Virginia's Fare Wheels program, said the service gives many elderly or disabled persons a new sense of independence and self-esteem.

"There are a lot of people, especially the elderly, who feel that for the first time they have someone at their disposal," Grabb said. "If for some reason you aren't able to get yourself to a hospital or you are afraid to drive, you have the coupons in your hand and you can call a cab company just as if you had money."

Grabb said nearly every taxicab company that services Fairfax City has enrolled in the program.

Although the program has been in effect since July 1, the same date on which Fairfax City started its expanded CUE bus system to the nearby Vienna Metrorail Station, only four persons have signed up for the service.

"I would like to get more people to use the system who are eligible," said Fruehauf. "I don't know why they're not applying."

The city will continue to fund and operate the system, he said, despite the disappointingly low use.

To be eligible for Fairfax City's Fare Wheels program, applicants must be residents of the Northern Virginia community and have a handicap that does not permit them to use the area's regular transportation services.

Fare Wheels applications can be obtained at Fairfax City Hall, 10455 Armstrong St.; the city's public library, 3915 Chain Bridge Rd.; and the John C. Wood Municipal Complex, 3730 Old Lee Hwy. For more information, call 385-7859.