Minneapolis residents with disabilities who rely on taxi service will benefit from a new program announced recently. But in the southwestern part of the Twin Cities area, users of a paratransit service will see changes in who drives the vehicles. That is creating concern for people who know and trust their longtime drivers, whose jobs are being contracted out.
In Minneapolis five taxicab companies have agreed to provide ramp-equipped, wheelchair-accessible service as part of the new program. A total of 23 wheelchair-accessible vans began serving Minneapolis clients in February.
The arrangement comes in the wake of growing complaints about taxi drivers refusing to provide service for people with disabilities. Access was also a focus of debate last year when the Minneapolis City Council was negotiating contracts with alternative transportation providers including UberX and Lyft. One concern disability rights advocates had was that accessibility issues got short shrift in the zeal to accommodate the alternative firms.
Taxi companies that opt into the new accessible cab program get a break on licensing fees, according to city officials. Drivers go through additional training. All companies have GPS-equipped vehicles. All will accept credit cards.
Dispatching for the accessible cabs is through the combined services of Minneapolis Airport Taxi, Yellow Taxi, Green and White Taxi, Minneapple Taxi and La Mexican Taxicab. This is meant to ensure service 24 hours a day and to guarantee a ride for every call from a customer with disabilities.
The taxi companies that don’t provide the accessible cabs will pay additional fees of $20 per vehicle on top of their licensing fees. Lyft and Uber will each pay an additional $10,000 per year to help support the accessible cab service. Minneapolis already had about 800 licenses taxicabs. That number doesn’t include Uber, Lyft and other alternative transportation vehicles.
“This new program is a great step in the right direction to increasing accessibility for our residents,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges in a statement. “It’s important that all residents know they can rely on services when they need them and I thank these participating taxicab companies for recognizing the importance of serving the entire community.”
But while Minneapolis taxi riders enjoy service improvements, their counterparts in the southwest metro area will see less favorable changes. Last year riders of DARTS in Dakota County were dismayed when their transit service provider lost a Metropolitan Council para-transit contract.
Now in Scott County the para-transit service provider SmartLink is laying off dozens of staff, including all of its drivers. The changes are being made in part because SmartLink is losing its Metropolitan Council contract to provide accessible service. That means an annual loss of about $600,000. The contract was terminated due to concerns about performance.
Scott County will release a request for proposals in April, with a revamped service taking effect in the fall. In the meantime, new drivers will be hired via subcontract. That means riders with disabilities will no longer have the drivers they have known for some time and has raised concerns for some riders and for their longtime drivers. While the drivers can reapply for their old jobs, many have expressed worries that being subcontractors will mean lower pay.
Scott County officials hope to announce further changes in paratransit services later this year.
In Minneapolis, contact Airport Taxi and Yellow Taxi at 612-888-8888, Green and White at 651-293-9999, Minneapple Taxi at 612-338-9300 and La Mexicana Taxi at 612-788-1226.