Hundreds of times every month, passengers with disabilities call for taxicabs in Chicago only to have them either arrive hours late or not show up at all.
The nightmare could be over, thanks to a new dispatch system advanced by a City Council committee Wednesday that takes full advantage of the GPS system in every cab.
The contract authorizes Open Doors Organization, a non-profit disability advocacy group, to charge participating medallion owners $215-a-month—down from $275 currently–to subscribe to, what City Hall calls a 21st-century dispatch system.
Currently, the dispatch system is operated by Flash Cab using a central telephone number. Until pick-up, there is no communication between drive and passenger. If there’s a problem, passengers have to keep calling central dispatch and wait for dispatch to contact the driver. The city gets no share of revenues.
The new “SnagTechnology” system was developed in partnership with Driven Solutions LLC, a Humboldt Park technology start-up.
It will not only give the city a five percent cut of revenues. It will allow passengers to communicate directly with cabdrivers to speed arrival times and download an app that will allow them to visualize where all of the wheelchair-accessible cabs are and tap on the closest one.
Open Doors is also planning to distribute 100 I-Pads or other tablets at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the Rehabilitation Institute and other major hospitals and nursing homes to make it easier for discharged patients to hail a wheelchair-accessible cab, even if they don’t own a smart phone.
A “rewards program,” including free gas cards, for cabbies who provide the best service will “incentivize” participation, officials said. And Open Doors will be subject to “performance measurements and reporting requirements” that never applied to Flash Cab, the current operator.
“There are hundreds of rides every month that are not picked up. We plan on making that zero. We want every ride picked up. We hope we’ll be able to find out why every ride does not get picked up and then, create a solution so that every ride does get picked up,” said Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors.
“Our mission has always been to get people out of the house so we can show our force as consumers, which will then increase accessibility through demand…Representing people with disabilities, we’re able to not only do the dispatch, but train the drivers as well on accessibility things [such as] transfers, etiquette–all of those kinds of things that will be able to increase their business.”
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), chairman of the City Council’s License Committee, called the dispatch upgrade long overdue.
“Some of the problems with [public] transportation is how long people have to wait for it. We need to cut down on all of that waiting,” Mitts said.
“This is something that needs to have happened. We need to not leave out our disabled and never forget. You never know when we’ll be there. And it gives them a sense of hope, of dignity and pride in being able to go” where they need to go.
Karen Tamley, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, said riders with disabilities are waiting “much longer than the general population” for cabs, when they arrive at all.
“This is gonna really help improve that system…There’s gonna be better tracking. There’s gonna be better monitoring of where cabs are. There’s gonna be more training,” Tamley said.
“Overall, there’s gonna be a lot more ability for the data to be collected, so we know where the issues are, where the problems are, where the breakdowns could be for people not being able to get cabs in a timely manner.”
Last year, the City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to reform the taxicab industry in a way that nearly doubled the number of wheelchair-accessible cabs—from 90-to-175.
It authorized wheelchair-accessible cabs to remain on the street for five years—with an option for a sixth-year—compared to a maximum street life of four years for non-accessible cabs.
High-tech dispatch is the next logical step, officials said.