2016 DFHV Annual Report on Accessible Vehicle-For-Hire Service

by Sean Riley


Executive Summary

Under the DC Taxicab Service Improvement Amendment Act of 2012 (DC Taxi Act) the Accessibility Advisory Committee (the Committee) is tasked with transmitting to the Mayor, and to the Council, an annual report on the accessibility of taxicab service in the District and how it can be further improved. The Committee, responding to changes in the market and industry, is addressing accessibility issues for both taxi and transportation network companies referred to in this report as public and private vehicles-for-hire (VFH) respectively. This report serves as the Committee’s 2016 submission and builds on the recommendations and background provided in the comprehensive reports submitted October 15, 2015, September 30, 2014 and February 20, 2014.

A. The Need for Accessible Vehicle-for-Hire Service in the District

The number of public wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) in the past year has increased from 141 to a little over 221 (roughly 2.7% of the District’s public VFH fleet). This is a significant increase, but there is still work to be done. Adults with disabilities are more than twice as likely to have inadequate transportation - leading to fewer opportunities for employment and increased poverty. In the District, only 30% of people with disabilities are working, 41% live in poverty, compared to 76% and 14% of those without disabilities. Provision of accessible on-demand transportation also bolsters the District’s compliance with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) integration mandate laid out in the Supreme Court’s Olmstead v L.C. decision that allows people with disabilities to live in the community.

According to a DFHV survey of District residents roughly 30% of all public and private VFH trips not made were found to have been linked to the lack of accessible vehicles. Based on the survey responses, the DFHV recommended a total of 218 WAV public VFH and 1,428 private VFH. There are currently an unknown number of Uber WAVs, and no Lyft WAVs.

This summer the DFHV announced a series of drastic policy changes to the Transport DC program to address inadequate funding for increased demand. During the campaign to roll back the changes users talked often about using Transport DC to get to the grocery store, spend time with friends, go to restaurants and movies, see grandchildren, and travel to urgent care centers, dialysis appointments or hospitals in the evenings. Through actions and words Transport DC users made clear - accessible on-demand transportation had changed their lives for the better.

Finally, during the implementation of the SafeTrack program to improve the rail system, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) urged passengers to consider using alternative travel options. Unfortunately, many people with disabilities cannot use the District’s inaccessible bikeshare program, have limited access to the private VFH in the region, and do not own a vehicle. WMATA continues to debate late night service cuts that could affect disabled riders who work late hours, or who simply need to travel in the evenings. On-demand accessible public and private VFH are needed to ensure access to transportation and opportunities for all District residents.

B. The Legal Requirements for Providing Accessible Vehicle-for-Hire Service

The rights of District tourists, travelers, workers and residents with disabilities to access public and private VFH services are guaranteed under the ADA and corresponding regulations, the DC Taxi Act, the Vehicle-for-Hire 

Innovation Amendment Act of 2014, and the DC Human Rights Act (DCHRA). Laws and regulations include prohibitions against discrimination when providing service, training requirements, and, for public VFH companies, requirements to ensure a percentage of their fleet is wheelchair accessible (WA). The US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a Statement of Interest in 2015, affirming that private VFH companies are providing transportation services, therefore fall under Title III, and must comply with the ADA. Although Uber settled in a case brought by the National Federation of the Blind to ensure provision of service for blind passengers and their service animals, discrimination continues. A lawsuit has been brought against Uber in Chicago seeking provision of equal service to wheelchair users.

C. Measuring Up: Other Jurisdictions’ Provision of Accessible Vehicle-for-Hire Service

Based on data collected in 2015 there are efforts being made across the country by local advocates, city agencies and regional transportation agencies to increase the number of WA VFH. A few jurisdictions that are working on improving their accessible taxi service include: Alexandria, VA; Baltimore, MD; Chicago, IL; Houston, TX; Montgomery County, MD; New York, NY; Prince George’s County, MD; Philadelphia, PA and San Francisco, CA. These jurisdictions are utilizing a combination of federal funds, tax credits, incentives, and governmental requirements to support and increase the number of accessible public VFH.

D. Private Vehicle-for-Hire Accessibility Update: Nationwide

Uber and Lyft have reported an increased interest from public officials in utilizing their services for subsidized public transit options, including: creating first/last mile programs that aim to provide transportation options to and from public transit sites, replacing low ridership bus routes with subsidized private VFH service, subsidized paratransit alternatives, and emergency response alternatives.

In October, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced $8 million in funding through its Mobility on

Demand (MOD) Sandbox Program initiative for public transportation projects. The initial Notice of Funding

Opportunity (NOFO) outlined four guiding principles for transit agencies and other applicants, including an

expectation of service for people with disabilities through equity of service delivery. It is the hope of the

Committee that the MOD Sandbox guiding principles will set a precedent for future funding opportunities at a

local and federal level, and create an expectation for companies like Uber and Lyft to offer accessible service.

Case studies of Chicago, IL; Altamonte Springs, Fl; Boston, MA; and Washington, DC’s transit agency reflect a

need for equity moving forward.

After years of work the City of Chicago amended the Ordinance that governs the public VFH industry to increase accessibility. The Ordinance also established an accessibility fund to help defray the costs of modifications to vehicles. However, the entry of private VFH into Chicago is causing the public VFH fleet to shrink. Even so, in 2015, that shrinking industry filled 41,290 requests for rides in WAVs. Uber provided 14 WAV trips through August of 2015.

Altamonte Springs, FL offers a 20% discount on Uber rides that begin and end within city limits, as well as a 25% discount on rides that lead to their public transportation stations. The subsidized program relies on the expectation of a smartphone and credit card, and has no regulations for accessibility. Many transit riders are being left behind.

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) has partnered with Uber and Lyft to offer Boston residents with disabilities an alternative to their paratransit program known as the Ride. Customers with strict and/or fixed incomes will not know the true fee of their ride until the ride is requested. This could suppress trips and create problems for the return trip. Both Uber and Lyft are required to provide WAVs when requested. While Lyft is offering dial-in service as an alternative for riders without smartphones, Uber is distributing smart phones to customers in need. Little is known about the conditions the customer assumes when accepting a smartphone from Uber.

WMATA issued an open solicitation that closes December 9, 2016 for Abilities Ride, a subsidized on-demand alternative to paratransit with private VFH or other service providers. The program requirements are similar to the MBTA program, though there are no requirements for vendors to ensure those without smartphones will have access. While WAV provision is required, there are currently no requirements for equivalent service provision that would ensure equal wait times and costs, and limited comprehensive training requirements. If the Abilities Ride program extends to the District, residents with disabilities should expect robust anti- discrimination and training requirements, as well as changes to private VFH services that extend beyond the parameters of the partnership.

E. DC Accessible Vehicle-for-Hire Update

Currently, DC public VFH companies own 221 WAVs out of the approximately 8,234 licensed public VFH. It is unknown how many wheelchair accessible VFHs are running on a regular basis. The Committee acknowledges that DFHV, WMATA, DC Office of Human Rights (OHR), and the Office of Disability Rights (ODR) have been diligently participating in or creating programs to address the need for greater availability of accessible transportation services for all users in the District.

Activities include:

  •   Continuation of the DFHV/WMATA Transport DC Program and Engagement with Riders

  •   Continuation of the DFHV/OHR Anti-Discrimination Initiative

    The Committee encourages:

  •   Continuation of the DCTC Anonymous Riders Program

  •   Continued enforcement of DC Taxicab Service Improvement Amendment Act of 2012 Requirements

  •   Enforcement of The Vehicle-for-Hire Innovation Amendment Act of 2014

    F. Committee Recommendations toward Improving Vehicle-for-Hire Service

    The Committee recommends working within an open entry or equitable system for both private and public VFH, with the long-term goal of obtaining a 100% universally accessible fleet that meets all residents’ needs. The Committee also recommends:

    Regulatory System Changes

  •   Require all private and public VHF operators to provide meaningful WAV service in the District.

  •   Retain the Transport DC program as a service to District residents. Provide trips to any destination within the District 24/7. Work with Transport DC Users and this committee to ensure sustainability of the program and address any funding or program challenges.

  •   Ensure the innovative DFHV Neighborhood Shuttle service is available to all District residents, including those who require a wheelchair accessible vehicle, at the same rates and with equivalent wait times.

  •   Enforce the requirement that 12% of public VFH fleets are comprised of WAVs by December 31, 2016.

  •   Provide a best practice WAV service manual or training for company owners to highlight lessons

    learned and ensure WAVs are in use, and VFH companies are providing best possible service.

  •   Collect data from public and private VFH companies to ensure equitable, integrated WAV service is being provided to District residents, workers, and visitors. Review data annually and institute policy changes if needed.

  •   Ensure riders are aware of the complaint procedures if service is denied. Include refusal to haul data in any reports compiled to review demand and adequate provision of accessible service.

  •   Require all public and private VFH digital dispatch applications with capabilities allowing passengers to request WAVs on the same platform, and in the same manner as all other passengers.

  •   Require equal access to passenger services within the vehicle, including videos and payment systems.

  • Require digital dispatch companies, public and private VHF companies and owners that do not currently provide accessible service to pay into a District Accessible Service Fund.

  •   Require District government response to the DFHV AAC Annual Report Recommendations, similar to response required from the DDOT Director to the Pedestrian, Bicycle and now Multi-Modal Advisory Councils. Require reporting of recommendations and the DFHV response to the Council during the annual agency performance review.

  •   Mandate a centralized dispatch program for all drivers of WAVs. Subsidize drivers’ cost of any accessible vehicle dispatch program through the Accessible Service Fund.

  •   Note: In the 2015 Committee annual report Yellow Cab proposed long-term city subsidies, less restrictive vehicle acquisition policies, expanded age limits, granting of WA tags to drivers who have never owned one through a lottery, and mandated centralized dispatch as the solution for a sustainable accessible vehicle program.

    Regulatory Incentives & Funding

  •   Allow accessible public VFH to go to a separate line at Union Station and area airports if a centralized dispatch program is mandated.

  •   Establish and fund a tax credit for accessible VFH owners.

  •   Waive license fees for accessible VFH owners providing service to wheelchair users. Continue to waive

    training fees.

  •   Give a monthly award to a taxi driver of a WAV who provides outstanding service.

  •   Use District Accessible Service Funds to continue vehicle acquisition, training, and rental assistance grants.

  •   Continue to utilize financing options identified in the February 2014 Comprehensive Report (eg, public- private partnerships, a public VFH company or dispatch-provider fee, federal matches) to purchase accessible VFH to lease or sell.

  •   Explore the USDOT Rides to Wellness program, job access grant opportunities, and public-private partnerships with health insurance, healthcare providers, and local and national business community members to support and fund accessible VFH rides to healthcare appointments, recreation, and employment.

    The Committee recommends that procedures and systems, along with responsible personnel, continue to enforce, monitor, support, and report on accessible VFH service, and efforts to alleviate discrimination in the District. The Committee also recommends training of all public and private VFH drivers as is required by law, and the implementation of a public awareness campaign to highlight the District’s WAV offerings to the general public.


    The Committee acknowledges the willingness of the DC Council and hard work of the DFHV staff to implement a handful of our previous recommendations. We urge the Council, Mayor, and DFHV to continue to make improvements and prioritize accessible transportation. We urge you to consider the recommendations made in this report and to ensure private VFH are expected to provide accessible service in the District. The District can and should lead the nation – ensuring that access to all transportation services is available to each and every District worker, visitor, and resident.