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Chicago boosts wheelchair accessible taxi fleet with grant funds

The number of wheelchair accessible taxis in Chicago has almost doubled since January -- it’s up to about 178.

That’s according to the Regional Transportation Authority and Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

And now a $1.7 million federal grant will help the city add even more accessible taxis in 2013.

Jennifer Thomas said more accessible cabs are sorely needed. She often uses accessible cabs as part of her commute.

“Hopefully I’d get quicker service with more accessible cabs in the city,” Thomas said. “I find that right now, there’s a long wait.”

Thomas said she typically has to wait at least forty minutes for an accessible cab.

The RTA said it costs between 15 and 20 thousand dollars more for a cab company to add a wheelchair accessible taxi to its fleet than a non-accessible vehicle.

The city’s Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) Cost Reimbursement Program reimburses cab companies for that added cost.

The WAV fund was established in January of 2012 as a part of a taxi ordinance passed by the city council.

The initial WAV fund was seeded by a $100 increase in medallion license fees for Chicago taxis. That made the fund eligible for matching funds from the New Freedom federal grant program.

City officials said the federal grant money will mean the fund can add more than 130 new wheelchair accessible taxis to Chicago fleets starting in 2013.

The RTA board also approved two other projects with federal New Freedom grant money this week. One will fund CTA rail station guides for blind customers. The other will fund Visual Information Systems at Metra stations to assist hearing impaired travelers.

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