The new program sets a $750,000 fund for the grants and would require participants to undergo training to learn how to handle a fare involving disabled customers.
A taxi reform law that the D.C. Council passed in 2012 set new goals to boost the number of wheelchair accessible taxis in the city, where 20 percent, or approximately 130,000 people have a disability, according to the DC Office of Disability Rights. Under the regulations, taxi companies with 20 or more taxicabs in their fleet were required to dedicate a portion of their fleet to wheelchair accessible taxis: 6 percent by Dec. 31, 2014; 12 percent by Dec. 31, 2016; and 20 percent by Dec. 31, 2018.
“Ultimately the goal is to get to 100 percent,” commission spokesman Neville Waters said Tuesday. “It is the law according to the (Americans with Disabilities Act) and it’s a civil right.”
As a result of the new law, the city’s taxicab fleet recently added 86 wheelchair-accessible vehicles, the commission said recently. But it also announced that 20 companies did not meet the quota and were recently ordered to cease operations.
Waters said that the companies are now in a legal process. Some have appealed the commission’s order, and others have said they have now met the requirement. Their cases remain under review.
The commission’s acting chairman Ernest Chrappah said the new grant program is an effort to help reduce the burden of regulations on drivers while expanding accessible taxi service. The commission allocated the funds in its budget, which is funded with a 25-cent surcharge per trip.
Commission officials say Mobility Ventures, a company specializing in the manufacturing of accessible vehicles has agreed to offer a grant match of up to $5,000 to the first 20 drivers who purchase or lease a new MV-1 vehicle.
According to the D.C. law, wheelchair accessible taxicabs need to accommodate wheelchairs or personal mobility devices of up to 30 inches in width, have rear-entry or side-entry ramps or lifts that enable a passenger and driver to easily and comfortably gain access to the interior of the vehicle; and have safety devices to secure the wheelchair inside the vehicle.
Advocates for the disabled laud the grant program as a good effort to get more vehicles on the road, and address the long-standing concerns about a lack of access to transportation among people with mobility problems and other disabilities. They say more accessible taxis on the road will also benefit the elderly in the city.
“Accessible taxis in the District not only serve residents but make the nation’s capital a more welcoming tourist destination for wheelchair users and their families,” Jim Weisman, President and CEO of the United Spinal Association said.
Applications will be available on the commission’s Web site until the $750,000 are exhausted or on Sept. 30, 2015, whichever occurs first. The first deadline for submission is Aug. 10.