New city TLC cab policy blind to needs of disabled
Published: Sunday, December 05, 2010, 5:53 AM Updated: Sunday, December 05, 2010, 6:01 AM
Jeff Harrell STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- It’s tough enough getting to a cab outside the St. George Ferry Terminal with your health fully intact.
Staten Island Advance/Hilton FloresLivery cabs not under contract with the city line up on Richmond Terrace, waiting for ferry commuters.
Just making your way into and out of the terminal involves following a convoluted path filled with cones, barrel barriers and signs telling you to go there, turn here, and oh well ... too bad if you end up at a dead-end.
None of the signs wishes you luck if you’re disabled and have a special arrangement with a cab company that isn’t one of the city’s Chosen Four allowed to pick up and drop off commuters on the Ferry Terminal’s property anymore.
Just ask Dana Avant.
Dana is blind and totally dependent on his new guide dog to get around on foot, a black Lab named Aidan he just partnered with two weeks ago.
When Dana needs a ride from the ferry to his apartment in Fox Hills, the 62-year-old retired child welfare social worker calls ahead to Grant City Car Service to be there waiting when he gets off the boat.
“I use Grant City all the time, and they’re very nice, very courteous,” Dana says. “They say, ‘Call us when you’re on the boat and we’ll be waiting for you.’”
Last Friday when Dana got off the boat, Grant City couldn’t make it.
“They told me they were no longer allowed to come into the terminal,” Dana recalls.
Instead, the cab sat out on Richmond Terrace — a hike, several skips and numerous jumps from the terminal for even the heartiest of commuters with 20/20 vision.
Staten Island Advance/Irving SilversteinDana Avant, ouside his home in Fox Hills with his service dog. He's blind and having trouble with taxis not being allowed on ferry termnal property. (Staten Island Advance/Irving Silverstein)
“How in the hell am I going to know where that is if I can’t see?” Dana asks, still exasperated at the lunacy of the situation. “I couldn’t get out there if I had to ... and I had to.”
Standing blind in a panic with Aidan by his side, Dana received assistance from a passerby who helped him flag down a cab.
The following Monday, Dana phoned the non-emergency 311 number to complain. What he dialed into was a bureaucratic circle of goofiness that made the Ferry Terminal’s parking lot look like a straight answer.
The 311 operator told Dana to call DOT or TLC, the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission.
“They gave me the service number at the Ferry Terminal,” Dana says.
Dana thanked the phone reps for playing pass the buck and called the Ferry Terminal.
The man who picked up assured Dana the honchos in charge were doing everything to make the Terminal accessible for the blind, including the installation of Braille directional signs designated by “chirping birds.” Dana was told to keep his ears peeled for the chirping birds.
“I never heard any chirping birds,” Dana says.
Then, the terminal guy got terminally chirpy with Dana.
“He said, ‘We have nothing to do with this. Try TLC. They’re the ones that made the ruling.’”
Dana’s snicker over going ‘round and ‘round for a ride home by a cab company he deals with regularly is worth a thousand chirps.
“I don’t know what bureaucrat thought this up,” Dana says.
This, meaning, the city’s contract that only allows taxis from four companies — Clove Lakes, Island Wide, DeJoy’s and Newport — near the ferry ramp.
All other car services, including Grant City Car Service, Access-A-Ride Taxi and others that accommodate the disabled, are prohibited from driving on the ferry ramp because the city’s contract forbids outside competition from picking up fares on terminal property.
“It’s a public place,” insists a lone United Cabs cabbie parked on Richmond Terrace Tuesday afternoon waiting in vain for anybody to hoof it out to the street through a drizzling rain looking for a ride. “Why do you have a private contract that keeps us out?”
Allan J. Fromberg, TLC’s deputy commissioner of public information, says the contract keeps “gypsy cabs” from converging on people during the terminal’s rush hours and transporting them in vehicles that are unlicensed, uninsured, uninspected and driven by cabbies who have not been drug-tested.
“It was like the wild, wild west,” Fromberg says of the taxi free-for-all at the terminal prior to the contract.
Since prohibiting cab companies from picking up pre-arranged disabled passengers at a convenient spot outside the terminal borders on the absurd, Fromberg says MTA is compiling a list of “black car services” not stipulated in the contract that would be allowed to pick up and drop off on the property.
A DOT spokeswoman says those cabs, which would be marked to let the terminal’s enforcement personnel know they are “legit,” will be able to pick up and drop off passengers at a designated area “at the former taxi drop-off/pickup ramp.”
“We’re going to make sure there’s a place they can do it,” Fromberg says. “We just have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. We have an obligation to make sure that the car they hop into is insured, inspected and safe.”
That’s fine with Dana, as long as he and his guide dog don’t have to feel their way out to Richmond Terrace to hunt down a ride home.
“Suppose somebody has orthopedic or mobility problems,” Dana asks. “This could disenfranchise the disabled community.”
Even a blind man can see that.