Columbia Disabilities Commission talks taxi accessibility

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Disabilities Commission discussed ideas Thursday on how to make taxis, Uber and shuttle services accessible to people with disabilities. 

Chuck Graham, chair of the commission, said there are gaps in Columbia's accessible transportation system because buses do not run 24/7. Additionally, he said Para-Transit services require 24 hour advance notice before picking a passenger up.

"When COMO Connect is not running in the evenings, and Para-Transit isn't, or on Sundays, people with disabilities that can't ride in a regular taxi have absolutely no way of getting around this community," Graham said.

Graham said there are currently no accessible taxis in Columbia. He said in some instances, the lack of accessible transportation has led to wheelchair users who are unable to drive using ambulances to access non-emergency medical care. He said this affects people like his brother, who uses a scooter and is unable to drive.

"If he gets a stomach ache in the morning and needs to go to the doctor, he's gotta wait 24 hours or call an ambulance," Graham said. "We don't need an ambulance for that, just an accessible ride." 

Graham said some larger cities require taxi companies to provide wheelchair-accessible taxis. He said some of those cities provide grants and subsidies to reduce purchasing costs.   

"I think there are some ways we could look at some unique public-private partnerships," Graham said. "This is just the beginning of a conversation in terms of trying to fill in some of the gaps we have in our community." 

Terry Nickerson, owner of Taxi Terry's in Columbia, said, "If there was some kind of way that we could get a grant, or the government subsidized it or something, we would do it about 2:00 tomorrow...I could check it off my list."

Nickerson said he has been wanting to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van since he opened his business six years ago. He said the high cost of the vans has so far kept him from doing so. 

"You're looking at 60 or 70 grand just to get the wheelchair van," Nickerson said. "You're going to have it three or four years before you even turn a profit with it. It would just be on the books, and you just can't do that right now."

Nickerson said he's seen some demand for wheelchair-accessible services. 

"We get calls from time to time, people wanting to know if we have a wheelchair-accessible van," Nickerson said. "The funds are just not there."

Graham and other commissioners also began discussing plans to ensure accessibility for Uber and private student housing shuttles. He said all discussions are preliminary. 

"These are some things we need to work on, and I'm glad we're getting a start on it," Graham said.