Metro Taxi to expand disability services

New Haven-based Metro Taxi is pairing with Hartford’s Yellow Cab
Company to drastically increase its wheelchair-accessible cab fleet from
one to 140 cars, all run on natural-gas fuel. The enhanced taxis will
cost no more than Metro Taxi’s existing 161 vehicles.

“We concluded that one wheelchair taxi currently servicing 30 towns
is not nearly enough to provide effective, demand-response service,”
Metro Taxi CEO and President Bill Scalzi said. “We think a fleet of
vehicles is required in order to make a program available for all those
with mobility disabilities truly viable.”

When Scalzi incorporated the first wheelchair-accessible cab into his
fleet in October 2009, it was the first of its kind in Connecticut. The
service — Metro Access — was immediately well-received, said Michelle
Duprey, director of disability services for the city of New Haven.

Metro Taxi also hopes to address environmental concerns by using
compressed natural gas as the fuel for the cars, Scalzi said. Duprey
said she worked closely with Scalzi as he sought a clean-energy grant to
help finance the new vehicles.

The actual purchase of these vehicles is pending approval of permits
from the Connecticut Department of Transportation later this month,
Scalzi said.

Scalzi’s said his decision to incorporate wheelchair-accessible
vehicles into his fleet began nearly 10 years ago, when he said a
newspaper article about a recently disabled high school girl prompted
him to consider ways to help the disabled population of Connecticut.

“I remember thinking, ‘Where does she go from there? How does she get
to the mall, go to the movies or simply visit with her friends?'”
Scalzi said.

The need for wheelchair-accessible vehicles was an issue in
Connecticut, Duprey said, and Metro Taxi worked closely with the city of
New Haven’s Department of Services for Persons with Disabilities and
the Connecticut Department of Transportation to allow
wheelchair-accessible cabs on the road.

When Scalzi was given a position on the Americans with Disabilities
Act Coalition of Connecticut’s board of directors in January 2011,
coalition President Janet Van Tussell identified Scalzi in a press
release as “the driving force” in the new disabilities legislation.

In October 2010, Metro Taxi began a funding program in preparation
for its fleet expansion to ensure that people with disabilities who
needed to access to transportation could get it. The program, called the
New Freedom Fund Taxi Voucher Program, allows people with disabilities
to use Metro Access at a 50 percent discounted rate compared to
non-wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

“It’s essential that we closely collaborate to ensure that all
residents have access to quality transportation services and never allow
disabilities to become barriers,” said Donna K. Carter, executive
director of the New Haven Transit District, in an October press release.

Metro Access is not the first time that Metro Taxi has used its
services for community benefits. From sponsoring youth sports teams to
donating 161 frozen turkeys annually — one for each cab in its fleet —
to charity, the company makes an effort to be involved with the
community, Scalzi said. The company also sponsors the Governor’s
Prevention Partnership to ensure that college and university students
have access to safe rides, he said.

“No different from our business hours, for us, the giving season is all year round and 24/7,” Scalzi said.

In addition to Metro Access and Metro Taxi’s regular cab services,
the company also has a black car and executive van service called
Metropolitan Livery.

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