Could the future of accessible transportation be right in front of our eyes? There are more than 55 million people with disabilities in the United States and roughly 35 million have reduced mobility. The population in the country continues to age with over 19 million people aged 65 and older with a disability of some type. The Census also shows that by age 75 nearly 53 percent of the population have a disability. Despite all of this, we are still underserved when it comes to transportation. The future only means more doctor appointments, more trips to dialysis, more trips to family members and just more "wanting to go out."
People with disabilities and older adults have a massive need for transportation and the industry has really not responded. But there might be an answer, a software with rideshare connections that could increase transportation options for people with disabilities. The proof is in the valuation of one company, Uber. Let's not kid ourselves Uber, Sidecar and the others are not stealing thousands of rides, rather they are finding and creating thousands of rides. Remember there are thousands of rides and thousands more in the future. Maybe big city taxi owners need to look in the mirror. Why were these rides going unfulfilled and why didn't the taxi industry quickly snatch them up? Why could they not match Uber, Sidecar and other ride share companies? Why did they allow their cars to sit in lots while others were fulfilling these insurance rides, subsidized rides and paratransit rides?
There are some cities where transportation is better than others, such as Houston. While they are not perfect, they typify a great public private partnership where the demand and supply run very close to equilibrium. Houston's taxis are in partnership with paratransit, thus to handle the thousands of paratransit rides there are hundreds of accessible taxis, which increases options for accessible transportation. Chicago's Open Taxi gives incentives for wheelchair taxis in the form of line passes for the short trip lane at both O'hare and Midway Airports. There is a centralized dispatch, with separate app, so people call one number, one app and they reach all taxi companies. Thus wait times are shorter and taxi service is nearly on-demand. New York has the one-stop Accessible Dispatch which dispatches the entire New York City fleet. By 2020 half of the New York City fleet will be required to be accessible. Uber in Chicago, Houston and DC is even trying to expand opportunities for people with disabilities, under UberAssist. This caters to people with disabilities who do not need a wheelchair accessible vehicle but may want someone properly trained to work with service animals. So instead of kicking your service animal out, they have a spare bowl with water in the back seat. These UberAssist drivers are even trained on stowing a manual wheelchair in their trunk. Rideshare also affords people with disabilities, and their families, the opportunity to use their own vehicle to help others with disabilities. If people use their own vehicles this could help offset some of the extra cost involved with having a wheelchair accessible vehicle and actually create jobs.
So what is stopping the taxi industry from taking these rides? Too many cooks in the kitchen? For years big taxi owners have worn a veil of secrecy and miscommunicated with each other. The venture capitalist that own taxis do not mix well with the rogue and secretive owners whose livelihood relies only on taxis. This leaves another large divide in an industry that clearly has multiple divides. Did some taxi owners worry too much about winning mayoral elections instead of tending to their businesses? Why did they wait until medallion prices tanked before they thought it might be a good idea to worry less about politics and more about competition? Let's face it, the taxi industry is running scared from a technology that requires a smartphone and credit card. Taxis never required a credit card and smartphone, in fact they have spent years trying to buck the credit card idea. But then here comes rideshares to prove there is billions of dollars out there for credit card/smartphone only rides. So take note, if you see your industry expanding do not run to city hall, run to the bank, get some money out, look in the mirror and get the wheels turning.