Four DC taxi companies: Yellow Cab Company of DC, Inc., Grand Cab Company, Elite Cab Association, and Pleasant Taxi Club LLC have reached an agreement with the American Council of the Blind ("ACB"), a civil rights advocacy organization for the blind, to carry out an Accessibility Initiative to ensure that blind and visually-impaired individuals accompanied by service animals have full and equal access to taxi services in the District of Columbia, including street-hailed taxicab services. Together, these four companies represent more than one-fifth of the taxicabs in DC.
The Accessibility Initiative, pioneered by these four companies, is available for any DC taxicab company or driver wishing to voluntarily promote equal access for a contribution of only $15 per cab. As part of this Accessibility Initiative, the taxi companies have agreed to collaborate with ACB and contribute to a testing fund overseen and administered by ACB. ACB will monitor learning, education effectiveness, and compliance by associated drivers with their legal obligations to provide street-hail taxicab services in DC. Contributions to the Accessibility Initiative will be used to fund this monitoring and a third-party testing program to ensure that blind and visually-impaired individuals with service animals are successfully able to hail taxis on DC streets. Those contributing to this testing fund and agreeing to the Accessibility Initiative will be notified of any complaints and given feedback on their drivers' performance. The Accessibility Initiative also protects signatory drivers and taxicab companies with a commitment to resolve complaints against participating taxicabs without formal litigation.
As part of their mutual goal of promoting equal access to taxicab services in DC, all four companies have agreed to develop and implement a model Non-Discrimination Policy that accompanies the Accessibility Initiative. The Accessibility Initiative requires each signatory to incorporate such a policy into its association licensing agreements with its drivers when signing new drivers or renewing agreements, and to distribute the policy to all existing drivers. The Non-Discrimination Policy will make it clear that a driver may not assume that an animal accompanying a passenger is not a service animal. All drivers who do not have a valid medical exemption will be required to always stop to provide service to a passenger accompanied by a dog and hailing a taxi, or inquire whether the dog is a service animal where not obvious. The Non-Discrimination Policy also specifies that the taxicab company will promptly investigate any complaints it receives regarding any discriminatory conduct by its associated drivers, and discipline any associated driver who has proven to have engaged in a violation of the policy. Such discipline will include training of the driver on the Non-Discrimination Policy, suspension, reporting the driver to the DC Taxicab Commission ("DCTC"), and terminating the driver's association with the company.
Additionally, in a joint letter, Grand Cab, Yellow Cab, Elite Cab, and Pleasant Taxi recommended needed changes to DCTC policies and rules to promote and safely provide street-hail taxi services in DC to the visually-impaired. DCTC will now provide disability sensitivity training to new and renewing licensed taxicab vehicle operators and has implemented a disability sensitivity training module.
Eric Bridges, Executive Director of the ACB, stated:
"We are encouraged that these four taxi companies are willing to work with us to promote equal access to taxicab services in the District of Columbia. We hope that other cab companies in the District will join this Accessibility Initiative and contribute to the testing fund in order to become the gold standard for taxi service in DC, including street-hailed taxis."
Matthew Handley, Director of Litigation at the Washington Lawyers' Committee, said:
"Public transportation, including taxi services, should be available and accessible to everyone, including persons with disabilities who use service dogs. We are pleased that we were able to come together to implement this Accessibility Initiative in the District of Columbia. We are also pleased with the jointly recommended changes to the Taxi Commission's policies and regulations, which will apply to all DC taxicab companies and set the standard for equal access."
Matthew MacLean, Partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, added:
"Launching the Accessibility Initiative through the American Council of the Blind is a great accomplishment. This program has the tools to create meaningful change in the accessibility policies of taxicab providers in DC, and is an opportunity for companies to engage in a constructive program to ensure the rights of taxi passengers relying on service animals are understood and respected."
ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS' COMMITTEE:
Since 1968, the Washington Lawyers' Committee has represented individuals and groups seeking to vindicate their civil rights, handling thousands of civil rights cases in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other aspects of urban life. The Committee represents people with claims of discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran's status. The Committee's litigation efforts have become nationally known for landmark court victories, record judgments, and precedent-setting consent decrees. For more information, contact: Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, 11 Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036; phone (202) 319-1000; fax (202) 319-1010; or see: www.washlaw.org
ABOUT AMERICAN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND:
The American Council of the Blind is the largest consumer-based organization of blind and visually impaired Americans advocating for the rights of blind Americans. Comprised of more than 70 affiliates across the United States, the organization is dedicated to making it possible for blind and visually impaired Americans to participate fully in all aspects of American society. For more information, visit www.acb.org; write to American Council of the Blind, 1703 N Beauregard Street, Suite 420, Alexandria, VA 22311; phone (202) 467-5081; or fax (703) 465-5085.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP is a leading international law firm with offices around the world and a particular focus on the energy & natural resources, financial services, real estate & construction, and technology sectors. Recognized by Financial Times as one of the most innovative law firms, Pillsbury and its lawyers are highly regarded for their forward-thinking approach, their enthusiasm for collaborating across disciplines and their unsurpassed commercial awareness. For more information, visit www.pillsburylaw.com