Metro Taxi to expand disability services

For residents of the Elm City with physical disabilities, taxi transportation is on its way.

New Haven-based Metro Taxi is pairing with Hartford’s Yellow Cab Company to drastically increase its wheelchair-accessible cab fleet from one to 140 cars, all run on natural-gas fuel. The enhanced taxis will cost no more than Metro Taxi’s existing 161 vehicles.

“We concluded that one wheelchair taxi currently servicing 30 towns is not nearly enough to provide effective, demand-response service,” Metro Taxi CEO and President Bill Scalzi said. “We think a fleet of vehicles is required in order to make a program available for all those with mobility disabilities truly viable.”

When Scalzi incorporated the first wheelchair-accessible cab into his fleet in October 2009, it was the first of its kind in Connecticut. The service — Metro Access — was immediately well-received, said Michelle Duprey, director of disability services for the city of New Haven.

Metro Taxi also hopes to address environmental concerns by using compressed natural gas as the fuel for the cars, Scalzi said. Duprey said she worked closely with Scalzi as he sought a clean-energy grant to help finance the new vehicles.

The actual purchase of these vehicles is pending approval of permits from the Connecticut Department of Transportation later this month, Scalzi said.

Scalzi’s said his decision to incorporate wheelchair-accessible vehicles into his fleet began nearly 10 years ago, when he said a newspaper article about a recently disabled high school girl prompted him to consider ways to help the disabled population of Connecticut.

“I remember thinking, ‘Where does she go from there? How does she get to the mall, go to the movies or simply visit with her friends?’” Scalzi said.

The need for wheelchair-accessible vehicles was an issue in Connecticut, Duprey said, and Metro Taxi worked closely with the city of New Haven’s Department of Services for Persons with Disabilities and the Connecticut Department of Transportation to allow wheelchair-accessible cabs on the road.

When Scalzi was given a position on the Americans with Disabilities Act Coalition of Connecticut’s board of directors in January 2011, coalition President Janet Van Tussell identified Scalzi in a press release as “the driving force” in the new disabilities legislation.

In October 2010, Metro Taxi began a funding program in preparation for its fleet expansion to ensure that people with disabilities who needed to access to transportation could get it. The program, called the New Freedom Fund Taxi Voucher Program, allows people with disabilities to use Metro Access at a 50 percent discounted rate compared to non-wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

“It’s essential that we closely collaborate to ensure that all residents have access to quality transportation services and never allow disabilities to become barriers,” said Donna K. Carter, executive director of the New Haven Transit District, in an October press release.

Metro Access is not the first time that Metro Taxi has used its services for community benefits. From sponsoring youth sports teams to donating 161 frozen turkeys annually — one for each cab in its fleet — to charity, the company makes an effort to be involved with the community, Scalzi said. The company also sponsors the Governor’s Prevention Partnership to ensure that college and university students have access to safe rides, he said.

“No different from our business hours, for us, the giving season is all year round and 24/7,” Scalzi said.

In addition to Metro Access and Metro Taxi’s regular cab services, the company also has a black car and executive van service called Metropolitan Livery.

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