Saturday, September 3, 2016

Accessible taxi cabs a bust in outer boroughs; N.Y.C. Cabbies Star at U.S. Open




R. Nadal [web photo]
My wife and I went to the U.S. Open on Wednesday, August 31, to watch an evening match featuring Rafael Nadal and Andrew Seppi. Over the years, Maggie and I have purchased "disabled seating tickets" to the event, as we did this year, in Queens, where the
 U.S. Open Tennis Center is located.

But as some of the readers know, I am now living in Manhattan, New York.

A. Seppi [web photo]
When I can’t walk to work, which is about nine blocks, or half a mile away from our apartment, I use the new accessible taxicabs, and order a car through Accessible Dispatch, via the WOW taxi app on my Apple iphone, which as their website mentions, is part of MetroTaxi.

I love the service and it has been reliable in the borough of Manhattan. In addition, a cab will even drop me off in any of the five boroughs, such as Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn.

But there's an exception, which I missed, and is not readily apparent, even to my disability advocacy-leaning mind.

 

The Exception Comes to Light - - at My Expense

 

An accessible taxicab picked us up in Manhattan and drove us to the U.S. Open. But after the terrific match, at about midnight, Accessible Dispatchers [at least three different people] said they could not pick us up in Queens, even though taxis were available in Manhattan. "We do not pick up in the boroughs," I was told.

So, our ability to get back into Manhattan together seemed hopeless. The Accessible Dispatch website, question and answer section, posts the following:

“Passenger pickups will occur in Manhattan only for any destinations in the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester and Nassau counties, and Newark Airport served by NYC taxis.


Accessible trips returning to Manhattan from the other four boroughs will require an accessible livery vehicle. 

Wheelchair-accessible livery vehicles are available in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, but these trips are not handled by Accessible Dispatch.”

My problem was that when I called for a pickup to go home, the dispatcher gave us four phone numbers to call after the tennis match ended, near midnight, but accessible taxis were not available in Queens or had a two-hour plus waiting period.

Learning this, I asked for a supervisor or an executive of the company - - the answers I received were silence and "I don't have that information." (I now know who they are.)

I didn’t know how we would get home, and it was midnight. We just felt as if we were on another planet, not in the "Big Apple"

We walked over to a U.S. Open representative who directed us to a "taxi stand." Ironically, the pickup area was behind the former N.Y. World’s Fair globe, where Maggie photographed me earlier. (Note my victory pose - - happy to be at the Open.)
Earlier in the day at the Open.

When Maggie and I arrived at the taxi stand, we found police officers and taxi drivers, but no accessible taxis. We could not get home. and  I had no backup plan.

Maggie and I tried to use the Uber service app, but we didn't know how to specify or request an accessible taxi. Other taxi drivers waiting for passengers offered to lift me out of the wheelchair and place me in a “town car” and put my power wheelchair in the trunk.

I politely refused the offer, as that posed a risk of being injured during a "lift" to me or my helpers. But I appreciated their consideration. After all, they were trying to work with us.

As Maggie was talking to police officers and cabbies, I was "pacing" in my chair, searching my mind for a solution. It was 1:30 in the morning.

I told Maggie that at worst-case, she should take a cab back to Manhattan and get our accessible van, or, come back in an accessible taxicab - - then we'd do a round-trip back to Manhattan. By the way, that would cost us about $250.00, with tip, including the $47.00 fee we already paid to get to the tennis center.

NY Cabbies to the rescue


We talked to the police about this, and they suggested we try to call a van service. Other drivers offered solutions but only one, "Gagan," made a call to a friend. Luckily for us, Gagan's friend was just signing off from work and agreed to come and pick us up at the Open.

Web Photo
The driver, "Pawan," was a prince. He loaded me into the rear of the accessible van and agreed to take us into Manhattan. It was two in the morning. We got home safely, had a pleasant ride, and took the driver's name and number as we plan to use him again. Pawan, by the way, was a member of the Accessible Dispatch network, mentioned above.

My mistake for sure, but the NYC accessible taxi model is flawed


The current accessible taxi model is short-sighted. How can you drop off disabled patrons at a destination in New York City and not, or shall I say, refuse, to pick them up? It defies logic.

Before my spinal cord injury on New Year's Eve in 1980, I drove a yellow "Checker Cab" during my breaks from college at Colgate University.  I earned school money for books and clothes driving throughout the five boroughs of New York
Checker Cab, Web photo
City.

I never refused a passenger (fare), although I was cautioned to be careful, as Cabbies were being robbed at gunpoint during that era. My garage was in The Bronx, and when I picked up a fare in Manhattan for a trip to LaGuardia or Kennedy airports, I'd look for a fare on the way back to my home territory.  In other words, I dropped off and picked up fares throughout the city.

You'd think with technological dispatch services, this issue would be easier, not more complicated.

Maggie and I basically would’ve been stranded if not for the good Samaritan taxi drivers who came to our aid. We spent about $120.00 on cab rides that night. But, it was well worth our safety, sanity and well-being.

Once again disabled patrons are shortchanged “by half a loaf” or “rotten apple car service.” It just doesn’t make sense.

Now, I have to obtain a phone number for each borough I visit and be home before dinner -- I feel like I'm 14 years old again!

Time to get back to common sense


Let’s begin to use common sense and a create "seamless service" for the disabled patrons. Why hearken back to the days in 1955 when Montgomery, Alabama had bus transportation rules for one race and a different set of practices for another? Do we do the same for water fountains again?  So why do we have these rules or practices for riders with disabilities?  Change the rules!

Those so called "solutions" didn't work then, and don't work now.

Disabled people go out, we socialize, we spend money, we
Web graphic
do everything able-bodied people do, but we do it differently.

If not for two compassionate cab drivers, who took action and found a solution, my wife and would still be at the U.S. Open – waiting.

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