Metro Taxi, the state’s largest, full-service taxicab company that spurred new legislation and brought the first wheelchair-accessible taxi cab to Connecticut in 2009, today rolled out the new “MV-1” mobility vehicle. The MV-1 is the world’s first vehicle to be designed from the ground up as a wheelchair-accessible taxi and is powered by domestically-produced Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). The MV-1 is also the only domestically-built cab that meets the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Sept. 2011, Metro Taxi opened a public access fueling station at its West Haven-based headquarters using a grant for alternative fuel vehicles from the Connecticut Clean Cities Future Fuels Project, the state’s largest public/private partnership of its kind. Today’s roll-out puts the first six MV-1 taxis on the streets of Greater New Haven to be followed by about five more in each of the next 12 weeks. Like its 2009 predecessor, the wheelchair-accessible taxi service is called “Metro Access,” and like all other Metro Taxis, it offers on-demand transportation, 24/7.
ORANGE — Ron Zolla is getting a front-row seat for the latest thing in wheelchair-access public transport. As the vehicle, all orange, white and shiny, pulled up in his driveway, Zolla and his wife, Dorothy, weren’t quite sure what to make of it.
“Oh my, it’s a big one,” she said, as driver Juan Perez parked the MV-1 mobility taxi, hopped out and lowered the wheelchair ramp.
“Hey, I’m sitting up front now? This is different,” Ron Vollo said.
Indeed, it is. After months of preparation, Metro Taxi of West Haven is rolling out the first of its 70 new, wheelchair-friendly taxis that run on compressed natural gas.
It’s part of a continuing upgrade that riders and Metro Taxi officials say is transforming mobility options for thousands of disabled people around the state.
“It really is a wonderful opportunity for people with mobility disabilities,” said Michelle Duprey, director of New Haven’s Department of Services for Persons with Disabilities.
“Now, with a large number of vehicles out there, more people can be served more easily.”
Each of the new vehicles costs $49,000 and has a ramp that holds up to 1,200 pounds. Rides for those using wheelchairs are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s a much better ride,” said William Scalzi, president of Metro Taxi, which began offering wheelchair service in retro-fitted taxis in 2009. “They’re not sitting in the way-back part of the van.” Metro Taxi has 161 vehicles on the road, including the MV-1 cabs. Scalzi said the MV-1 will handle all types of service calls, not just those involving wheelchairs.
On Dec. 30, a little more than a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an agreement to bring taxi service to the outer boroughs while making taxis and livery cars more accessible to the disabled, New York City quietly filed notice that it would appeal a federal court decision that imposed an even more stringent requirement for disability access. On Dec. 23, U.S. District Judge George Daniels ruled that the city, because it regulates the taxi industry and does not require medallion owners to provide “meaningful” access to the wheelchair-bound, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. As part of the decision, the judge called for “immediate and full compliance” with the A.D.A. “The [Taxi and Limousine Commission] must propose a comprehensive plan to provide meaningful access to taxicab service for disabled wheelchair bound passengers,” wrote Daniels. “Such a plan must include targeted goals and standards, as well as anticipated measurable results. Until such a plan is proposed and approved by this Court, all new taxi medallions sold or new street-hail livery licenses or permits issued by the TLC must be for wheelchair accessible vehicles.” In other words, New York City cannot sell any non-accessible outer-borough taxi permits until the judge says so.
Large enough for two wheelchairs and several passengers, the MV-1 got a big thumbs up from Ronnie Ramond with the Taxis For All Campaign.”You can imagine three six-foot-five basketball players sitting in the backseat and being comfortable,” she said. “To me, it feels like a little tank. I mean it feels that sturdy and that, you know, smooth.” The taxi vehicle was put on display and given the test by several wheelchair users near Madison Square Park on Tuesday. The SUV has already been approved by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Commissioner David Yassky says it’s designed specifically for the handicapped.