Taxi cab companies shamelessly violate the Americans with Disabilities Act throughout the country, with wheelchair users often having to wait hours for an accessible ride.
On a number of occasions, I’ve been stranded overnight as a result — at airports, a concert venue, a movie theater and at a friend’s house. A hotel has always been close by, except for one night earlier this year.
Following a wedding reception in Jacksonville, Florida, I was unable get a wheelchair taxi back to my hotel across town. After waiting nearly an hour at the event venue, I decided to search for a place to stay. It was midnight, and the the nearest hotel was several miles away. I didn’t have the battery power to make it.
I was thirsty, tired and had to use the toilet. I decided to roll my wheelchair to a Shell gas station nearby, which was open 24×7, had an accessible bathroom and sold drinks and snacks. If I was going to be marooned for hours, I figured that the gas station was the best place to wait.
Over the following hours, I continued to call the cab company (zTrip) for updates on my wheelchair taxi reservation. The call center staff, located in another state, were rude and had little sympathy for my predicament. “We might be able to get a wheelchair taxi to you in the morning,” they said.
Jacksonville isn’t the only city in Florida with significant accessibility challenges. Read about the Sunshine State’s lack of access in the article, For Wheelchair Users in Florida, It’s Not All Sunshine.
At around 3 a.m., I decided to put my power wheelchair in full recline to relieve pressure and catch some sleep. It was a restless night, with the noise of cars, customers, drunkards and homeless people serving as a constant interruption.
By sunrise, with my cell phone battery nearly exhausted and no wheelchair taxi in sight, I called the police on their non-emergency line. I described my predicament and asked for the assistance of an officer.
Shortly thereafter, a deputy of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office arrived. He was a friendly and compassionate man, but told me that the local police had no vehicle capable of transporting a power wheelchair (this must change). He called zTrip, identified himself as an officer of the law, and demanded that the company dispatch a wheelchair taxi.
Within an hour, at 10:26 a.m., a wheelchair taxi arrived. I had been stranded at the gas station for nearly 10 hours.
Was the police officer’s call actually the magic touch? No, it was a stroke of luck. Wheelchair taxis don’t operate 24 hours a day, despite the ADA requirement that they be available during the same hours as standard, non-adapted cabs. My cab driver had just signed-on for the morning when the officer called zTrip, and she was dispatched accordingly.
The zTrip taxi cab company violated my civil rights, denied me the ability to sleep in my hotel room bed and left me stranded at a gas station for 10 hours overnight. That is unacceptable, but it is the typical experience of wheelchair users in Jacksonville, Florida. Wheelchair taxis can’t be trusted or counted on, and people with disabilities have their freedom restricted as a result. A late night out with friends? Forget about it.
The city government must act, or it will continue to be an accomplice in disability discrimination.