Spontaneous mobility: Inclusion taxi, a taxi for everyone
Spontaneous mobility: Inclusion taxi, a taxi for everyone
London, New York, and Sydney already have them – will Berlin be next? We are talking about taxis that have converted to become accessible. While London only issues licenses for wheelchair accessible vehicles, Germany still has a long way to go to get there. The "InklusionsTaxi – Taxi für Alle" project (English: Inclusion Taxi - A Taxi for Everyone) is not afraid to get moving in this direction.
REHACARE.com asked project manager Lutz-Stephan Mannkopf how and when the Inclusion Taxi is scheduled to hit the market and how it might positively impact the spontaneous mobility of people with disabilities.
Mr. Mannkopf, how accessible and barrier-free is today’s taxi industry?
Lutz-Stephan Mannkopf: In the past few years, not even one percent of Berlin’s taxi fleet was accessible. We are talking about fewer than eight vehicles in this case. So the situation is very dire. You are more likely to find accessible vehicles in rural areas of Germany. Taxi companies do this on their own initiative because they see opportunities to generate additional revenue in this area. Taxi companies in major cities and metropolitan areas have a different point of view.
In collaboration with the German Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband (English: Association of Charitable Benefit Activities) and a car dealership, we recently introduced five accessible test taxis. With the subsidies we seek to obtain in mind, our goal is to kick-start and motivate the taxi industry. After all, the taxi industry argues that this endeavor is currently not profitable. It contends that the expenditures for conversions are disproportionate to potential additional earnings.
What is the objective of the "InklusionsTaxi" project?
Mannkopf: Our first objective was to identify a sufficient number of required vehicles. Mind you, the term "sufficient" is certainly a point we still have to further investigate as it pertains to the practical application.
Taxi companies call this city service coverage. This means that after a phone call or hailing a taxi via an app, the cab subsequently arrives within an appropriate period of time. Right now, we have a waiting time of about three minutes within Berlin’s metropolitan area. While this is not one of our current objectives, we have a waiting time of ten to fifteen minutes in mind and would also be willing to accept slightly longer waiting times in the city’s periphery. Having said that, this stretch of time would still be considerably shorter than the current waiting time for special transportation services. In this case, you need to order taxis up to two weeks in advance. This is nowhere near an implementation of spontaneous mobility.
Accessible, inclusive and timely transport for people with and without disabilities is the goal of the project "InclusionTaxi - A Taxi for All".
How many accessible vehicles are considered to be a sufficient number?
Mannkopf: We are currently working with three figures. First, there is the assessment of the taxi industry. It states that 800 vehicles would be needed to provide the required coverage. Then we have a model calculation by the Technical University of Berlin, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Transport Systems that refers to more of a medium-term coverage. It has estimated 250 vehicles as a lower limit in its model calculations to where we - along with policy makers - are now aiming at a number that’s somewhere in between, namely 400 vehicles. This should ensure spontaneous service for wheelchair users with Inclusion Taxis. We would like to reach this number within four years and are eligible to start in 2018.
How much does the conversion of existing taxis approximately cost?
Mannkopf: That always depends on the vehicles that are being retrofitted. The taxi industry prefers vehicles that tend to require fewer repairs and maintenance and last longer – generally speaking, the kind of vehicles that are more expensive. That’s also why the conversion costs are higher than is the case for less expensive models.
Without any official enforcement, we have to rely on voluntary participation and cooperation. That’s why taxi companies are the ones that will choose the types of vehicles they want to convert. The cost for high-end vehicles is about 15,000 Euros and up.
Do cab drivers need to get special training to operate the new vehicles?
Mannkopf: According to the Berufsgenossenschaft (German Trade Association), drives that provide accessible transportation services need to complete special training. This is also a prerequisite for our project: companies that accept an assistance agreement must also train their cab drivers accordingly. In doing so, they gain serviceability for the slightly different demands they need to satisfy – i.e., managing the various conversions and customers with disabilities.
What are the benefits of the Inclusion Taxis?
Mannkopf: This would demonstrate inclusion in public roadways. We would then have taxis that service everyone and that everyone can use. What’s more, this might raise awareness in people that there are other people, who have different needs for transportation but that these needs can be met by providing mobility services for everyone.
Accessible taxi vehicles are intended to transport people in wheelchairs as well as non-disabled persons safely and comfortably.
Inclusion is definitely an area where more needs to be done. Having said that, I believe that this would be a new opportunity for people with disabilities to increase their flexibility in social participation. This is very important for people who have difficulties using public transport options. Maybe they have already given up on the idea of spontaneous mobility.
How can Inclusion Taxis help people to lead a self-determined life?
Mannkopf: It would eliminate several barriers because you can now hail an accessible vehicle in a timely manner, for example, if you are faced with a broken elevator, are unable to use public transport for whatever reason or generally depend on door-to-door transportation. This would definitely be a paradigm shift in spontaneous mobility.