Montgomery County officials say they want to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs and have the county’s taxi fleet 100 percent accessible by 2025.
Among the measures approved Tuesday by the County Council, one aims to improve taxi service and requires the County’s Department of Transportation to develop a plan to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible cabs that have lifts or ramps, with a goal of having 100 percent accessible taxicabs within 10 years.
The bill also authorizes issuing 50 accessible vehicle licenses to a driver-owned cooperative to encourage innovation as accessible transportation expands.
“These reforms will accrue to the benefit of all — the industry, drivers, consumers, the disabled community, seniors and low-income residents,” said council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), the lead sponsor of the bills. Berliner said the reforms will not only help the county’s 1,200 taxi drivers, but they will also put special attention on the transportation needs of the disabled.
The council also approved a 25 cent surcharge on Uber, Lyft and other transportation network services that start in the county. The funds will be used to help offset the costs of purchasing and retrofitting an accessible taxicab and facilitate the delivery of accessible taxicab services in the county.
“Two days ago, our county council passed legislation that said by 2025, 100 percent of the taxicabs in our county will be wheelchair accessible,” Berliner said at a news event Thursday afternoon when the county announced progress in its campaign to make bus stops more accessible and safe. “That will be the future that we give to all of our residents but most importantly to our disabled community.”
Drivers affiliated with the AFL-CIO “are absolutely behind any effort to increase the number of handicapped accessible taxis in Montgomery County,” and “will continue to advocate for common-sense reforms that benefit our communities,” the union said.
The measures also received support from advocates for the disabled community who say the measures will help ensure people with disabilities receive equal access to all transportation options, including taxis.
Seth Morgan, chair of the County’s Commission on People with Disabilities, said the measures will help address the shortage of accessible cabs in the county. He told the council that often a person with a disability needs to give at least a 24-hour advance notice to reserve an accessible car.
Carol Tyson, director of Disability Policy for United Spinal Association, said in a letter of support for the legislation that “each additional accessible taxi on the road provides life-changing service to wheelchair users — granting convenient, and at times the only available, transportation to work, school, appointments, and arts and culture.”
“Accessible taxis can provide backup transportation when Metro elevators are broken, or late at night when public transportation, including paratransit, is no longer running,” she said. “Accessible transportation ensures that each and every one of us, and those we care about, can remain active should we find ourselves living with a temporary or permanent disability.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) is expected to sign the taxi bills.
In the District, the D.C. Taxicab Commission recently announced that the city’s taxicab fleet has added 86 wheelchair-accessible vehicles as a result of the new law.
The law required that 6 percent of a taxicab company’s fleet comprise wheelchair-accessible cabs by the end of last year. Some companies exceeded the requirement, the taxicab commission said, but 20 companies did not comply and were recently ordered to cease operations.