Disabled fear rise in fee for taxicabs

Lensay Abadula and Lensay Abadula

For Jeannie Davis going to the grocery store is more than a mundane activity. It means depending on someone who has the free time to drive her.

Davis lives alone in Evanston and has had a chronic immunological disability for 16 years. She also can’t afford to have a car.

“That would be a luxury to have my own car,” Davis said as she sat at the front of the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave. Davis was there to buy taxicab coupons the city offers seniors and people with disabilities who have difficulty taking public transportation.

But Davis and other residents might have to find new ways of getting around town if Evanston’s City Council approves a recommendation to cut the taxicab program. City Manager Julia Carroll also recommended raising the price of coupons from $2 to $2.50.

Look and listen…

Listen to Evanston resident Jeannie Davis discuss her views on the proposed cut to the city’s taxicab coupon program.

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The city recommended the cut as an alternative to a property tax increase of nearly seven percent, Carroll said.

The Evanston City Council should also consider raising fees or other taxes, she said.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) proposed a two percent food and beverage tax on restaurants.

The taxi coupons are available to residents older than 60 or people with disabilities preventing them from taking public transportation who earn $30,000 or less a year. Besides the Levy Center, coupons are also sold at the city collector’s office and the Evanston United Way, 1811 Benson Ave.

The program’s large size made it attractive for city officials to cut, said Nancy Flowers, an overseer of the taxicab program. The projected cost of the program this year is $180,000, she said.

The city manager also proposed a 50-cent price hike because more residents have used the program in past years while the fee has remained the same.

If the price rises, Davis said she would have to limit the number of coupons she buys. Now she said she can afford no more than 10 coupons a month.

“For most of us that are low-income, we have to proportion out how many coupons we can afford,” Davis said.

The price of the coupons has not increased since the early 90s, Flowers said, and the program has grown substantially recently. In 2004 there were 35,588 trips taken, and in 2005 there were 49,884 trips taken, she said. The increase was due in part to cuts the Chicago Transit Authority made to bus routes in Evanston, she said.

Flowers said she would hate to see the program eliminated, but she can understand a price increase.

“It’s one way to keep the program viable,” Flowers said. “The city wants to keep it affordable but responsible to respond to the constraints that we’re under.”

Norshore taxicab driver Thomas Lavord said he has had many passengers that use the coupons. Unlike programs in neighboring cities like Skokie, where passengers make up any cost the coupon doesn’t cover, Evanston’s program covers an entire fare. Seniors now pay $2 per coupon and the city pays $3 for every ride. If a fare is more than $5 the driver loses money.

“What I do mind is when they use the coupon as a fare itself and the fare is more than what the coupon reads,” Lavord said. “It happens quite frequently.”

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