City of Chicago to More Than Double Number of Wheelchair Accessible Taxicabs by 2018

Rideshare ordinance increased mandate and will expand funds dedicated to expand both wheelchair accessible public vehicles and improve services to Chicago’s disabled community

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) announced today that the City is developing a plan to double the number of wheelchair accessible taxicab vehicles (WAVs) by the end of 2018. 

“This important investment will help ensure that having a disability doesn’t mean limited access to taxis and enjoying our great city,” said Mayor Emanuel. “For many of us, taxis are a necessary means of getting from point A to point B, and more wheelchair accessible vehicles are a step in the right direction.”

This major increase in the number of WAVs will be subsidized in part by the City’s Accessibility Fund, a funding source supported by fees paid by the taxi and rideshare industries.  This is the latest commitment from the Mayor in a long series of initiatives to improve the accessibility of the City’s public passenger vehicle industry. 

“We need to make sure that the transportation improvements being made throughout Chicago benefit everyone in our city,” said Alderman Emma Mitts (37th), Chairman of the City Council Committee on License and Consumer Protection. “This latest expansion of wheelchair accessible taxis will mean more people will have an easier time moving throughout the city, and enjoying the things many of us can too easily take for granted.”

“This is another significant expansion of wheelchair accessible taxis in Chicago, building on the progress we’ve made to improve access to taxis for those with disabilities,” said Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30th), Chairman of the City Council Committee on Human Relations. “This will be a major quality of life improvement for many with disabilities, because for someone who is wheelchair-bound, it’s not just as easy as going to the corner to hail a cab.”

New mandates contained in the City’s rideshare, or Transportation Network Provider (TNP), ordinance will increase the number of WAVs on the road, establish additional funding sources, and enhance service delivery.  This ordinance passed on May 28, 2014 and was introduced by the Emanuel Administration and co-sponsored by Alderman Mitts.  The ordinance took effect at the beginning of September. 

Taxi licensees who own at least 10 medallions will be required to have 10 percent of their vehicles made up of WAVs by the end of 2018.  Previously, taxi licensees with at least 20 medallions were required to have 5% of their fleets made up of WAVs.  This new mandate will result in the addition of a minimum of 204 WAVs by 2018 to the existing 163 on the road today with a portion of the cost to owners subsidized by the accessibility fund.  And to ensure that the WAV fleet does not decline over time, the ordinance requires existing WAVs to be replaced by WAVs when the end of their life cycle is reached. 

“Mayor Emanuel is committed to improving service delivery to people with disabilities across all public vehicle industries.  The Mayor’s rideshare ordinance set mandates that will go beyond anything the City has done to increase WAVs in Chicago,” said BACP Commissioner Maria Lapacek.  “This will build upon reforms established over the past two years that have already doubled WAVs from where they were in 2011.”

The TNP ordinance also requires ride share companies to pay into the City’s Accessibility Fund.  Similar to the taxis, ride shares will be required to pay a per vehicle fee annually for every vehicle that is not wheelchair accessible: Class A would pay 10 cents per trip for each non-accessible vehicle. Class B would pay $100 per year, per vehicle for every non-accessible vehicle. All TNP drivers are required to participate in a training program that cover topics related to providing services to people with disabilities.

Additionally, the ordinance simplified the rules for accessing the City’s Accessibility Fund, which currently contains $3.5 million and is expected to increase by roughly $700,000 a year.  Previously, the Fund could only be accessed by taxi licensees once the required mandate levels had been reached.  The TNP ordinance provided the City with additional flexibility to use the funds to help taxi licensees reach the new mandates by 2018.  As required by the TNP ordinance, BACP and MOPD are working with an Accessibility Fund Task Force to identify options for best using the fund going forward. 

Finally, the ordinance applied new, first-in-the-nation accessibility requirements for rideshare companies.  Licensed rideshare companies must have fully accessible mobile applications byJanuary 1, 2015 and provide customers with the option of a wheelchair-accessible TNP vehicle.  Licensees shall provide service to customers requiring accessible TNP vehicles by (1) connecting the customers with the licensee’s drivers who operate accessible vehicles; or 2) entering into a service contract with other persons that dispatch WAVs in order to dispatch such vehicles through the licensee’s application or platform.

The City’s announcement was made in conjunction with an 11:00am hearing on improving the accessibility of public passenger vehicles before the City Council Committees of Human Relations and Licensing and Consumer Protection on Tuesday, September 23, 2014.  Accessibility advocates and taxi consumers will highlight the need for additional WAVs to meet demand in Chicago and propose additional ideas for increasing the accessibility of public passenger vehicles beyond the requirements of the rideshare ordinance.  The Emanuel Administration will work with advocates, consumers, and aldermen to further increase the accessibility of the City’s public passenger vehicle fleet.

The City of Chicago is prepared to enforce all requirements by requiring companies to keep operation records for three years and to make reports available to the City. The goal is to increase the incentives for green and wheelchair accessible vehicles by extending the age limits for alternative fuel and WAVs by one year (6 years for alternative fuel vehicles and 7 years for WAVs.)

“I believe we have made a lot of progress with the TNP ordinance for people with disabilities who live or visit the city, said MOPD Commissioner Karen Tamley, “It is my commitment to keep working with the community who rely on accessible taxicabs.”

The Mayor’s commitment to enhance services to people with disabilities was part of the 2012 taxicab reform passed by City Council, which established a path for all of these initiatives to be successful. This reform established the Accessibility Fund to provide financial stability to get more WAVs on the road, granted BACP authority to provide innovative ways to dispatch WAV vehicles and provided a longer life span for the fleet. 

The new centralized dispatch which started in 2013 has reduced customer wait times, increased the participation of WAV by establishing driver incentives and has also established training that has garnered greater results.