Graham Kilmer

Paratransit Taxis Could Return This Year

A task force has outlined a new, scaled-back taxi program the county could implement this year.

By - Apr 26th, 2024 10:43 am
A rider boards a paratransit van on N. 10th Street. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

A rider boards a paratransit van on N. 10th Street. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

A trimmed-down and scaled-back version of on-demand taxi service for people with disabilities could return later this year.

In 2023, a publicly funded taxi service for people with disabilities was discontinued because it was out of compliance with federal regulations. The program, managed by the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS), needed ADA-accessible vehicles and drug and alcohol testing for drivers, which the county’s contractor did not offer.

Milwaukee County also did not have the funding to establish an entire taxi service, complete with dispatching and sufficient vehicles and drivers to provide same-day, on-demand service for county residents with disabilities. A task force was created to brainstorm a replacement for the defunct taxi service, and the Milwaukee County Board allocated $1.3 million for a pilot program.

Now, the task force is getting closer to a replacement program. At a meeting Thursday, members worked on a formal request for information from potential vendors that would bid on a paratransit-taxi program complete with ADA-compliant vehicles.

The pilot program outlined Thursday would differ from the old service in a few key ways.

First, there will be a limit on the number of rides. Taxi service users will likely be limited to eight one-way rides a month, according to information provided to potential contractors. Second, rides will be limited to use for work, health care or other medical-related uses, including trips to the pharmacy. The old program allowed unlimited rides and allowed riders to take the taxi service anywhere.

The task force is also expecting the new service would allow both private and shared taxi rides, in part, according to to Milwaukee County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) Director Donna Brown-Martin, to accommodate more rides with limited funding. Some members expressed that shared rides would be less attractive to potential taxi service users than single rides.

If everything goes according to plan, the county will begin soliciting vendors at the end of May and the pilot program will be operating by August. The pilot taxi service will give county policymakers hard data on how much the new program costs for future budgets.

The old paratransit taxi service was not available to everyone, as the vehicles were not wheelchair accessible. But when it disappeared, taxi users had to rely solely on the county’s primary paratransit service, Transit Plus, which is a shared-ride van service that riders have to schedule 24 hours in advance. The van service is not useful during an emergency, and riders have long complained that it is regularly late.

In late 2023, right as the taxi service was disappearing, Transit Plus was shifted to a new contractor, TransDev. The company did not have enough staff to fulfill the contract and was missing pickups and dropoffs all over the county, leaving riders stranded. While service was improving, according to Fran Musci, MCTS director of paratransit services, the company’s performance has once again taken a “bit of a nosedive” as the company struggles to maintain staffing.

If TransDev continues to struggle, a new taxi program could also provide a safety net for the riders who rely on it.

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