With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, it became easier for physically challenged individuals to get around. At most major airports and in cities, taxi fleets incorporated larger vehicles that were specially equipped to accommodate wheelchairs, their users and even assistance dogs. The following is an explanation of the types of vehicles used, the modifications added and some tips on booking this specialty service.

Modified Vans Explained

Taxi companies usually use mini-vans or full-sized passenger vans for transporting the physically challenged. Each one must be modified to make it easier for the client to access the vehicle.

Types of Entries

  • Side entries allow the wheelchair passengers to sit closer to the front. They can also enter and exit from the side of the vehicle, keeping them away from traffic. This configuration also offers more storage space in the back of the vehicle. The side entry van does need a handicap parking space, or at least one that is wide enough to accommodate the ramp. 
  • Full-sized vans tend to have rear entries. These vans have a higher clearance and are able to more easily accommodate the larger wheelchairs, as well as passengers that carry oxygen or other health equipment. Passengers do enter and exit into a traffic area, so the operator needs to be mindful of moving vehicles.

Types of Access

  • Ramps are used on both side and rear entry modified vehicles. Two basic types of ramps are available. One folds in half and is stored next to the passenger exit door on a side entry vehicle or just inside the rear doors on the rear access van. The folding ramp is available in both manual and motorized styles.  The other type folds into the floor when not in use, and is motorized. 
  • Platform lifts are typically used with full sized vans. To get into the van, the platform is lowered to the ground, the passenger wheels on to the platform and it is raised to the height of the van floor. The passenger just wheels off and into position for the ride. To exit the van, reverse the procedure.

Use of Tie Downs

Wheelchairs do have brakes, but for safety sake they must be tied down to the floor of the vehicle. The Transportation Research Institute of the University of Michigan conducts ongoing tests of the various restraints on the market. The most common type used today is a belt tie-down system that attaches the wheelchair to permanently welded anchors on the floor of the van.

Tips for Obtaining Service

Since these modified vans make up only a small portion of most taxi fleets, its best to plan ahead if you need wheelchair assistance.

  • If you are traveling by air, it's best to reserve your taxi before your trip. Otherwise, you'll need to advise the on site airport taxi dispatcher and you might be in for a bit of a wait, especially if it's during a busy time. 
  • When you book your taxi, advise the dispatcher what type of van you need. If you have a large wheelchair, especially with a leg elevator extension, extra medical equipment such as a respirator, and/or a service animal, the mini van might be a tight squeeze. 
  • If you do find a driver and a vehicle that meets your needs, get the driver's business card and cell phone number. You can then call him direct for your return trip to the airport, or even for sightseeing services. 
  • These tips also work for obtaining specially equipped vans around town. Don't wait until the last minute to call for your taxi service to the doctor's office. Do both yourself and the dispatcher a favor by calling and requesting your vehicle the day before. The trip and the correct vehicle will be put on the pick-up calendar when you call, making sure you get the right ride.