Specialized cabs mean more options for disabled riders

Darlene Pfister
Star Tribune

It's easier now for Joyce Vincent to laugh about her "disasters in transportation." She thinks they're behind her, thanks to a new fleet of wheelchair-accessible taxis in the metro area.

Vincent is a retired businesswoman and a community activist. Rheumatoid arthritis has compelled her to use a wheelchair for most of her 66 years. She was an impetus behind a recently implemented Minneapolis ordinance that granted 45 licenses specifically for wheelchair-accessible taxis.

"It used to be there was only one [wheelchair-accessible] cab in town," Vincent said. "If it was in for service, you were out of luck."

No longer. Earlier this month, 12 of 20 new, specially equipped Ford Windstar minivans bought by Airport Taxi were put into service, significantly increasing the number of wheelchair-accessible cabs in the metro area. As a result of the new ordinance, Rainbow Taxi and Yellow Taxi have also added specially equipped taxis to their fleets.

The ordinance requires the specialized vehicles to give higher priority to disabled customers. Drivers are trained and certified to assist passengers into the cabs, which are equipped with ramps.

As many as five passengers can accompany the wheelchair user. The specialized vehicles are licensed to serve the whole metro area, not just Minneapolis.

For years, Metro Mobility was the only affordable transportation option for many disabled riders who require door-to-door assistance. About 18,000 people are certified to use the service. Although service complaints have declined in recent years, Metro Mobility's limitations often made it inconvenient and unreliable for spontaneous use. Rides must be arranged several days in advance, and slots at peak times filled quickly. Private transportation was an option, but at a premium price.

The new accessible cabs will charge the same rate as any other taxi, said Laura Thompson, general manager of Airport Taxi. Customers can make reservations in advance or just a few hours ahead, she said.

That type of flexibility means a lot to Vincent.

She has long been a proponent and user of Metro Mobility, but sharing rides, scheduling days in advance and not getting desired time slots have made travel extremely inconvenient for her at times.

"You can imagine trying to live your life as a businessperson just with Metro Mobility," said Vincent, who recently retired after a 45-year career at the Courage Center. "It's very demanding.

"I like that now you know you have a way to get there."