Since it began two years ago, the Transportation Planning Board's wheelchair-accessible taxicab pilot program--"rollDC"--has seen an eight-fold increase in the number of trips provided to users of mobility devices living in or visiting the District of Columbia. In a 2011 customer satisfaction survey, 81% of respondents rated their most recent "rollDC" trip either "very good" or "excellent," and nine in ten first-time users said they planned to use the service again in the future.
In total, more than 6,000 trips have been made using "rollDC" since February 2010 by people who use wheelchairs or scooters that cannot be accommodated by conventional taxis.
Disability advocates and local planners have long identified accessible taxi services as a missing link in the District of Columbia's transportation network. In other jurisdictions in the region, up to 4% of licensed taxi vehicles are equipped to accommodate mobility devices. Prior to "rollDC", none of the 6,500 taxis in operation in the District had such capabilities.
The TPB launched "rollDC" in early 2010 as a pilot program using a grant under the Federal Transit Administration's "New Freedom" program, which supports initiatives to expand transportation options for people with disabilities.
With the grant, the TPB purchased 20 ramp-equipped minivans to be operated as wheelchair-accessible taxis by two private companies in the District--Yellow Cab Company of DC, and Royal Cab.
The $1.3 million grant from FTA, which included $200,000 in matching funds from the District of Columbia and contributions from the two private taxi companies, also enabled the TPB to develop operating guidelines, a driver training program, and marketing materials for the service. And the grant offsets some of the added costs of maintaining and operating the ramp-equipped vehicles.
Although the TPB's 2011 customer satisfaction survey returned good reviews overall for "rollDC", some respondents said they thought that additional taxi vehicles were needed, and that, during peak hours, the wait for taxis was longer than they anticipated. Even with 20 wheelchair-accessible vehicles, the "rollDC" fleet still represents just 0.3% of the taxis on the road in the District.
Coupled with the eight-fold increase in monthly ridership, this lingering disparity between the District of Columbia and surrounding jurisdictions suggests that unmet demand for wheelchair-accessible taxi service in the District remains.
The 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week "rollDC" serivce also provides an alternative to MetroAccess, the paratransit service operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for people with disabilities who are unable to access the Metrorail or Metrobus system.
Currently, MetroAccess is the one other primary transportation option in the District of Columbia for residents and visitors who need ramp- or lift-equipped vehicles.
While those who use "rollDC" pay full, regular-priced taxi fares--which are usually more expensive than the one-way fares of $3 to $7 charged by MetroAccess--they can avoid the lengthy pre-registration process and one-day advance booking required by MetroAccess. Plus, the direct service provided by "rollDC" can often mean users arrive at their destination faster than by using MetroAccess, which follows a shared-ride model.
The wheelchair-accessible taxi service provided by "rollDC" is not yet a permanent fixture of the District's transportation system, however. In December 2012, the $1.3 million federal grant currently being used to support the pilot program will be exhausted. Additional funding commitments from the District Council or new regulatory provisions for companies to provide wheelchair-accessible service will be necessary if this critical transportation option is to remain available to District residents and visitors who need it.