A pilot program implemented by the Transportation Planning Board to provide wheelchair-accessible taxicab service in the District of Columbia will continue now that District officials have committed a portion of the funding needed to keep the pilot going and to expand it by adding more ramp- and lift-equipped vehicles.
The District's mayor, Vincent Gray, recently announced $375,000 in funding for the program, known as "rollDC," which the TPB will use to secure about $1 million in additional funding under the Federal Transit Administration's "New Freedom" program. New Freedom supports state and local initiatives to expand transportation options for persons with disabilities and was the main source of funding for rollDC when the TPB launched it in 2010.
The new local and federal funding will go to purchasing new vehicles, training drivers, and providing the two private taxicab companies that run the service -- Yellow Cab of DC and Royal Cab -- the financial assistance they need to cover some of the added costs of maintaining and operating the specially-equipped vehicles.
Prior to the launch of rollDC, the District was one of only a few jurisdictions in the region without any taxi vehicles equipped with ramps or lifts to accommodate mobility devices like scooters or motorized wheelchairs. In some jurisdictions, up to 4% of taxi fleets were equipped for mobility devices.
Several years before the TPB conceived the idea to launch rollDC, disability advocates and local planners had identified accessible taxi service as a missing link in the District's transportation network, not only for local residents, but also for the many people who come to visit the nation's capital.
Now, with rollDC in place, 20 wheelchair-accessible taxi vehicles serve the District of Columbia on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week basis, providing on-demand, door-to-door taxi service for mobility device users. Since it launched, rollDC has provided more than 12,400 trips to people living in or visiting the District who use mobility devices, and in 2012 rollDC provided an average of 450 trips per month.
In addition to providing a service that didn't exist before, rollDC also provides an alternative to MetroAccess, a paratransit service offered by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for persons who are unable to access the Metrorail or Metrobus system due to a disability.
Although rollDC users pay more than the regular one-way MetroAccess fares of $3 to $7 -- federal law requires that the rates for accessible taxis be the same as those for conventional taxis -- they can avoid the lengthy pre-registration process and one-day advance booking MetroAccess requires. Plus, the direct service provided by rollDC can often mean passengers arrive at their destination faster than by using MetroAccess, which follows a shared-ride model.
The results of a 2011 customer satisfaction survey suggested that rollDC users were, by and large, quite satisfied with the new service. More than 80% 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.
Several other jurisdictions in the region have also been working to add, expand, or improve accessible taxi services. The first wheelchair-accessible taxis in Prince William County just recently went into service, and in December 2012, Arlington County added 10 new licenses for taxis equipped with ramps or lifts.
The latest funding commitment from the District of Columbia will ensure that rollDC, a wheelchair-accessible taxicab pilot program implemented by the Transportation Planning Board three years ago, will continue into 2014. However, additional funding or new rules and incentives to encourage taxi companies to add more wheelchair-accessible vehicles will be needed to ensure the long-term operation of the service.