City Agrees to Change Taxi Policy
In a victory for cab drivers and disabled New Yorkers, the mayors office agreed late Thursday to change the way garages dispatch handicap-accessible taxis.
Last year, the city implemented a system where the disabled could call 311 and handicapped-accessible taxis tracked through BlackBerries would be dispatched to them based on location. Cabbies protested that it was dangerous to fumble with their BlackBerries while driving, and many refused to participate.
We had tons of complaints, said Michael Harris, executive director of the Disabled Riders Coalition. Every single time I called, there were no drivers available.
After pressure from the taxi union, the city agreed to rout cars based on GPS during a meeting brokered by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.Under the city program, 311 calls for wheelchair-accessible taxis were dispatched by zones. Van drivers had to constantly report their zone location to dispatchers through BlackBerries. But many drivers considered it an inconvenience.
Driving and fiddling with a BlackBerry is very dangerous, said Beresford Simmons, 60, a driver who bought a wheelchair-accessible taxi but refused to participate in the dispatch program.
Only 10 percent of the handicap-accessible taxis ended up enrolling in the system, which wasnt mandatory, Harris said.
In another wrinkle, the city allowed wheelchair-accessible taxis to cut in line at Kennedy Airport to pick up fares and thereby encourage service to the transportation hub. But the move took more accessible vans off city streets as the taxis flocked to the airport for profitable airport fares, drivers and advocates say.
Animosity between drivers of regular and wheelchair-accessible taxis grew, and hacks planned to boycott JFK this month, said Bhairavi Desai, director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
Drivers without those vans would get three or four trips in same time period that a regular taxi would wait for three hours for one fare, Desai said.
The union collected 1,000 signatures from drivers against the arrangement, Desai said.
In a win for the union Thursday, the mayors office agreed to start a pilot program in March to dispatch some of the vans based on a GPS instead of the BlackBerries, said mayoral spokesman Marc Lavonga. The Taxi and Limousine Commission will decide later whether to use GPS for all dispatching.
Additionally, handicap-accessible taxis will only be allowed to move into the priority line at JFK after they have picked up a regular dispatch in the city, Lavonga said.