A contract with MV Transportation for services for people with disabilities is on hold after some raised questions about its effect on local cab drivers.
The $1.7 million contract, which was up for approval at the council’s Aug. 2 meeting, was referred to committee after Councilor Eugene Weeks questioned the effects on taxi drivers currently offering the transportation services.
Raleigh Transportation Administrator David Eatman explained at the Budget and Economic Development Committee Tuesday that the Accessible Raleigh Transportation program (ART) has grown from 350,000 passengers in 2009 to 450,000 passengers today. The program offers curb-to-curb transportation assistance for people with disabilities who can’t use traditional mass transit.
Eatman said the program will continue to grow and they need to make it more efficient.
The city uses private taxi companies to provide this curb-to-curb service, but they only give rides to one person at a time. A new contract with MV Transportation, which already does business in Cary and Wake County, would enable group trips for people who are traveling to or from similar or close destinations. MV Transportation could take on about 25 percent of existing trips.
Eatman said that the costs would be cut from $18 to $19 per trip to $7 to $12.
“It’s a great service to be provided,” Eatman said of the ART program. “But, unfortunately it’s probably not sustainable, especially with the economic environment we’ve been in since 2009.”
Eatman said that there haven’t been any significant changes to the program despite the economic downturn. The program costs have gone from $1 million from its inception to $7 million this year.
Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin asked if non-profits were looked into as a way to share the rides, particularly for senior citizens.
Eatman replied that the law states that anyone that requests a ride and that qualifies for the program must be provided one, but admits that staff has not recommended any other services as an alternative. The organization would also have to meet American Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements if the city is going to be using federal money for the program.
“It just becomes difficult,” he said.
The same problem exists with using the taxi companies to provide group trips. Taxi companies would have to comply with ADA guidelines in order to have a formal contract with the city. Eatman said that is a long-term goal.
Weeks said his main concern is that adding MV Transportation could put some taxi drivers out of the job.
Eatman acknowledged that it would have an effect on taxi drivers, but said MV Transportation would hire drivers to deal with the increased ridership.
Isaiah Samoita, the owner of Circle Taxi, told the Record that 75 percent of his company’s business is through the ART program. Samoita said has eight taxis and has been a part of the program since 2006.
“Right now, I’m depending on the program,” Samoita said. “If someone else took all of the trips, I wouldn’t be able to run all 8 cars.”
Samoita said he submitted a proposal to the city for the contract, but could not meet the ADA guidelines.
Cardinal Cab owner David Matoke also submitted a proposal for the contract; he does not know why he was not awarded it. Matoke said that the ART program brings in $6,000 a month for his business of 80 cars. He said the potential contract is fair as long as there would still be business for the local cab companies.
But, he said, if MV Transportation would be the sole contractor for the program, “They just took food out of our mouths.”
Mayor Charles Meeker suggesting holding the contract for further discussion at the next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 23 or 30.