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COLUMBIA – The city and Columbia’s Disability Commission recently proposed a grant program that would allow taxi companies to afford more wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Adam Kruse, ADA coordinator for the city, said the purpose of the program would be to provide more on-demand options for those with mobile impairments.

"The issue they’re trying to address is a gap in transportation in the community,” Kruse said. “A lot of people that use wheelchairs are dependent on public transit and fixed transportation but that service is only available for fixed hours during the day.” 

The city’s Para Transit only operates until 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is not available on Sundays. 

If passed, the grant will be available to licensed taxi providers in Columbia.

“The issue is taxi companies are not legally required to buy taxis with a wheelchair equipped van and these vans are more expensive than the regular taxis,” Kruse said. “So a lot of these taxi companies are not going out an buying these on their own.” 

Tom Palis, general manager of Rick's Taxi, said the cost of a wheelchair-accessible taxi has hindered his ability to purchase.

“To have a van converted, it would run about $15 to $20,000 and the vehicle had to be a certain age. And to buy one outright it would be $30 to $40,000,” Palis said.

The council proposed allocating $50,000 for the program. 

“The money would not be for just one vehicle. It will be towards two or three grants for the taxi companies,” Kruse said. “That would help them purchase the vehicle and for maintenance.”

The potential grant would impact those with mobility restrictions but Palis said the new vehicles could limit service.

“I mean I would love to have one. I can’t justify the expense on my own of going out and getting one because I don't know that I’ll get enough business to help even partially cover the cost,” Palis said.

The proposed grant program is part the city’s budget for fiscal year 2018. The council will hold public hearings on the budget on Sept. 5 and Sept. 18. 

Currently, only three taxi companies in the city have them.