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Funding To Help Buy Wheelchair-Accessible Cabs Entirely Unspent In D.C.

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Wheelchair-accessible cabs can represent an investment of $30,000-$40,000.
Martin Di Caro/WAMU
Wheelchair-accessible cabs can represent an investment of $30,000-$40,000.

This story was updated at 1:25 p.m.

Even as it threatens 15 cab companies with license revocation for failing to meet a deadline to convert 6 percent of their fleets to wheelchair-accessible vehicles, the D.C. Taxicab Commission has yet to spend a penny out of $750,000 allocated by the District Council two years ago for the purpose of increasing accessibility.

The purpose of the For-Hire Vehicle Accessible Amendment Act of 2014, authored by Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), was to create a fund to help cab companies buy wheelchair-accessible vans and train their drivers. The funding that was not spent in the first fiscal year was carried over to the current one.

Last week, the taxicab commission announced 21 cab companies missed a June 30 deadline to make 6 percent of their fleets wheelchair-ready. Since the announcement six companies have come into compliance, according to a commission spokesman. Although 86 vans were licensed by an unspecified number of companies — roughly quintupling the number available for dispatch to people with significant disabilities — none of the fleets received the allocated aid.

“They [the commission] haven’t even addressed it to see how they would make the money available. How you would qualify, how you would apply?” said Council member Cheh in an interview with WAMU 88.5.

Cheh said she recently bumped into a taxicab commissioner and raised the issue, but did not receive a reassuring answer.

“I brought this up and I said, 'Why don’t you have rules? Why don’t you make this money available?' And to me — shockingly — he said he never heard of it. He never heard of the money. He never heard of the possibility of doing this,” said Cheh, who said she may revive a bill to eliminate the taxicab commission and fold it into another District agency.

A D.C. Taxicab Commission spokesman was unable to explain why the $750,000 was unspent last fiscal year. Commission revenues topped $6 million, but only $3.9 million was spent, leaving more than enough to assist cab companies with van purchases.

Spokesman Neville Waters said this year the commission is waiting for revenue to surpass a legislatively-specified $4.7 million before spending on wheelchair-accessibility. So far, revenues total just $4 million. But Cheh’s office said the commission has budgetary authority to begin spending now, since the District’s CFO forecast revenues topping $7 million.

"DCTC has been reviewing the options developed by previous agency leadership as plans are considered for how to develop a robust program to increase availability of WAVs in the District. However, it is important to recognize that no spending can be triggered until the $4.7 million in revenue threshold is hit. We are confident that this target will be met," Waters said in an email for WAMU 88.5.

The commission’s revenue flows mostly from a 25-cent surcharge added to each taxi ride and paid by passengers, plus licensing and other fees paid by drivers.

The accessibility fund is supposed to be replenished to meet future benchmarks (12 percent wheelchair-accessible by 2017; 20 percent by 2019) by charging a fee on vehicles that are not available for people in wheelchairs.

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, which have no accessible vehicles in Washington, were hit with a 1 percent tax on gross revenues, but it is unclear precisely how much money it will provide to the fund. Those figures are expected soon, Cheh said.

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