Disabled residents in Minneapolis who need ramp-equipped taxicabs will have an easier time ­finding a ride.

Five Minneapolis taxi companies have agreed to provide wheelchair-accessible service as part of a new program that is one of the country’s first.

“This new program is a great step in the right direction to increasing accessibility for our residents,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges in a statement: “It’s important that all residents know they can rely on services when they need them, and I thank these participating taxicab companies for recognizing the importance of serving the entire community.”

The arrangement follows last year’s contentious debate over the regulation of new transportation companies UberX and Lyft, which spurred sweeping updates to the city’s rules on taxi services.

Twenty-three wheelchair-ready minivans hit Minneapolis streets in February. The drivers have received training on the proper use of the vehicles, and all accept credit card payments.

By opting in to the program, the five companies that are participating will pay reduced license fees.

City officials say the program better guarantees residents with disabilities a ride with wheelchair accessibility.

The new agreement combines the dispatch services of Airport Taxi, Yellow Taxi, Green and White Taxi, Minneapple Taxi and La Mexican Taxicab to connect disabled residents with rides 24 hours a day. City officials say the new system streamlines the process and guarantees a pickup with every dial.

“You [don’t] need to call through five different companies to find one that actually has a ride,” City Councilman Jacob Frey said. “You call one number, and it can be dispatched from there.”

Taxi companies that aren’t providing the specialized cabs must pay a surcharge of $20 per vehicle on top of their annual licensing fee, while Lyft and UberX are required to each pay an additional $10,000 annually.

Considering the city’s nearly 800 taxicabs in service, the new charges will add up. It’s a positive incentive for providing handicap accessibility, said Grant Wilson, the city’s head of business licensing. It also helps circulate funding for the continued use of incentive-based programming.

Frey, who led the proposal last year to legalize the operation of transportation network companies in Minneapolis, said the program is beneficial for both participating services and residents with disabilities.

Besides reworking the amount of handicap-accessible taxicabs, the city made other changes. Cab drivers have more parking privileges, and the maximum age of vehicles is five years longer than before, which could save companies in replacement costs.

Frey said before the new program went into effect — when drivers who operated the city’s specialized vehicles weren’t on the clock or a wheelchair-accessible taxicab was out of service — people with disabilities in need of rides would suffer.

Wilson said the number of taxicabs providing wheelchair-accessible service may grow as services consider the area’s aging population that may increase the demand.

“Minneapolis is leading the way with a new model that will be rolled out across the country,” Wilson said. “This is the model of the future.

 

Jessica Lee is a student from the University of Minnesota on assignment for the Star Tribune.