As a wheelchair user living in Washington, DC, I have found accessible taxi service highly unreliable for decades. I have filed too many complaints to count. I participated in mediation after charging a taxi company with discrimination, resulting only in empty promises for improving service with no actual actions to do so. I joined the DC Department for Hired Vehicles (DFHV) accessibility advisory committee, only to find no actual actions taking place as a result of the meetings. The refrain is simply repeated over and over: cab companies are not employing enough wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs).
Kelly Mack is a communications professional, specializing in health issues. In her spare time, she writes articles about living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and moderates for RheumatoidArthritis.net. She has lived with RA since age two, resulting in significant physical disabilities and use of a motorized wheelchair. Kelly earned a MA in Communications from Johns Hopkins University and a BA in Psychology from Bryn Mawr College. You can find Kelly on Twitter @MsKellyM.
It’s time for accessible cabs in DC
It’s long past time that DC fulfill its promise made in 2010 by then Council Member (now Mayor) Bowser and make cabs in DC fully accessible. Ignoring the civil rights of people with disabilities and denying access to services offered to the rest of the paying public should no longer be tolerated as we approach the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
While DFHV claims the pandemic continues to harm the cab industry, their own data demonstrates cab numbers for non-WAVs have recovered and in fact increased compared to 2019. However, WAVs taking trips have declined by more than 50% and continue to decrease.
According to DC law, at least 20% of each taxi fleet should have been made accessible by the end of 2018. See citation:
§ 50–301.25. Accessible public and private vehicles-for-hire.
(4) (C) At least 20% of each taxicab fleet shall be wheelchair-accessible by December 31, 2018.
However, DFHV reported in February 2022 they are only requiring 12% of taxi fleets be accessible. While DFHV claims cabs are meeting their regulation requirement of 12% WAVs in the fleets, they are counting cabs that are not taking trips, but instead sitting in parking lots. WAVs actually taking trips (providing service) amount to 1.5% of the fleet or merely 73 out of 4,770 cabs (as of March data).
Cab Regulator is not enforcing existing law
Additionally, basic math reveals that cab fleets are not even meeting that illegal 12% minimum. A generous calculation using the total number of WAVs in March 2022 (including those not taking trips and just sitting in parking lots) is 232 and the total cab fleet is 4,770 cabs, meaning 4.9% of the total fleet is accessible. This doesn’t meet the old rule of 12% nor the current one requiring 20% of fleets be accessible by the end of 2018.
A 2017 WAMU news piece reveals that the issue of WAVs sitting in cab company parking lots without drivers is a longstanding one (and not created by the pandemic as DFHV has indicated): Wheelchair Accessible Taxis in D.C. Go Unused, Setting Back Efforts To Improve Transportation Equity.
This is unacceptable and results in poor or denial of service for people with disabilities across the city. In my case alone, a cab company admitted they had fulfilled less than 50% of my bookings. And bookings are bound to be suppressed because people with disabilities will call a cab only as the last resort because they are so unreliable. No shows mean missed appointments, missed flights, missed visits with loved ones, and more costs in time and anxiety that are never repaid.
In short, DFHV is failing to regulate and the cab companies are failing to follow DC law.
This level of discrimination can no longer be tolerated. While nondisabled people can call another cab company or use a rideshare app to fill a cab no-show, due to the shortage of WAVs in the entire city, people with disabilities don’t have this option. Cab companies must provide equal service for people with disabilities and DC government must protect the rights of people with disabilities through stronger regulation and enforcement.
Let’s fix this
Several actions need to be taken immediately to rectify this significant equity and discrimination issue:
- Only actively operating WAVs (or WAVs taking trips) should be counted toward the taxi companies’ accessibility requirements. Counting WAVs sitting in parking lots with no drivers should no longer be acceptable. If they are not providing trips, then they are not fulfilling their purpose of accessible taxi service. Begin immediate fines for companies not meeting the active WAVs minimum requirement.
- Enhance incentives for WAV drivers and administer training and education to improve customer relations. I have personally experienced WAV drivers not wanting to pick me up because they don’t want to ‘deal with’ customers using wheelchairs. This has to stop and be unacceptable (finable/punishable) behavior for which both drivers and taxi companies must be held accountable. Without such accountability there can be no real expectation of change.
- Immediately launch the unified dispatch for WAV vehicles and publicize this to customers with disabilities (this has already been promised for several years and still hasn’t been implemented).
- Enact regulation requiring that 50% of all active cabs taking trips must be wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) within five years (2027).
- Until this goal is reached, enact a regulation that any/all new vehicles going into taxi service must be wheelchair accessible. Inaccessible vehicles should not be increasing in number. Only WAV drivers and vehicles should be onboarded moving forward.
- After the 50% goal is reached, develop a plan for achieving 100% taxi accessibility within the following five years (2032). Full accessibility for cabs is completely achievable. London is an example, as all of their cabs have been accessible for many years. Anyone can ride in a London cab and it should be the same in DC.
- Enact regulation that 30% of rideshare vehicles operate with accessibility within three years (2025).
People with disabilities deserve swift action to make cab access equitable. Waiting 32 years is already much too long to rectify this discrimination.