New program hopes to spur availability of wheelchair-accessible cabs in Minneapolis

The Transportation Network Companies Lyft and Uber would each be assessed a $10,000 surcharge for the initiative.

A program designed to encourage the creation of more wheelchair-ready taxicabs is part of a larger plan to overhaul of how taxis and transportation network companies such as Lyft and Uber are governed in Minneapolis. The City Council is expected to vote on the proposal Friday.

Currently, taxicab companies operating in Minneapolis are required to have 10 percent of their vehicles wheelchair ready — a provision that few of the companies are in compliance with, according to Grant Wilson, the city’s manager of business licenses.

Under the new plan, a pool of money would be created for the wheelchair incentives program by assessing a $20 charge to each of the roughly 900 taxicabs in Minneapolis. In addition, the Transportation Network Companies Lyft and Uber would each be assessed a $10,000 surcharge for the initiative.

“There are concerns that [drivers] can pick and choose who they want to give a ride to and when they want to give them a ride,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who pointed out that persons requiring a wheelchair are not the only passengers with complaints about service. “What are we going to do if it looks like people of color are not getting picked up or parts of the city are not being served?”

“There is a requirement to provide service to all persons seeking a ride and a responsibility to convey all orderly passengers,” replied Wilson, who explained that service for both the taxicabs and cars-for-hire will be monitored.

Taxicab companies must have at least 10 licensed wheelchair-accessible cabs in their fleet to qualify for the incentive program, which will waive the $950 license fee for each of those vehicles. The program will also supply stipends for training drivers to work with passengers needing wheelchairs.

Companies with less than 10 wheelchair-accessible vehicles will still qualify for a license-fee reduction, though at half the rate: $475 for each wheelchair accessible vehicle in their fleet.

To qualify for the incentive program, the taxicab companies are also required to have 24-hour dispatch and around-the-clock service availability.   

“What we’ve seen is that there has been quite a bit of discrimination over the years in our ability to get cabs,” said Council Member Jacob Frey, who sponsored the revised ordinances.

The new rules will allow the app-based Lyft and UberX services to operate legally in Minneapolis, where have both have already been in service for several months while the new rules were being written.

The two companies allow individual drivers, using their own vehicles, to arrange via smartphone passenger pick up and drop off for an agreed upon fee. The services are not bound by the city-issued fee structure for taxicabs. 

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