The Ketchikan City Council agreed Thursday to move forward with a proposal to provide wheelchair-accessible taxi cabs in Ketchikan, although the details for how that will work have yet to be determined.
The Council heard from several advocates for people with disabilities who say this service is sorely needed. Jessie Chapman, who uses a wheelchair and has a speech disability, wrote out her comments. They were read to the City Council by Kevin Gadsey.
Chapman said a wheelchair-accessible cab was provided to a local taxi company a few years ago by Southeast Alaska Independent Living, a regional nonprofit that helps people with disabilities. But, she said, the cab wasn’t properly maintained, so that service is no longer available.
“We have many people in wheelchairs in town, and many folks who come in on cruise ships who would use these cabs to enjoy our community,” Gadsey read. “I believe SAIL has state funding for one or two cabs for our community. This is wonderful, if requirements are put in place for upkeep and replacement.”
Keith Smith of the local SAIL office said there is grant funding available now for one cab, with the likelihood of a second cab in a few more months. The problem is convincing the cab companies to operate them.
Smith said ADA cabs could be used for any fare, although the priority would be for passengers who use wheelchairs or otherwise need extra assistance. Smith said there are many people in Ketchikan who use wheelchairs, and will use a taxi service if such a service is dependable.
Leslie Jackson of the Revilla Coordinated Transportation Coalition told the Council that there are 160 known scooter users who live in Ketchikan. She said there aren’t firm numbers on how many cruise visitors use wheelchairs, but there have been emergency calls for paratransit when people needing extra assistance arrive by ship or at the airport, unaware that ADA cabs aren’t available here.
Zach Boles of Alaskan and Sourdough Cabs also spoke to the Council. He said his company would like to work toward providing wheelchair-accessible taxis, but it’s more complicated than just buying a vehicle.
“Our handicapped people deserve the best and we need to offer them the best and we need to be reliable for them,” he said. “I just feel with what we’ve already experienced and done, this will be unsuccessful over time if we don’t set this up correctly with getting the proper laws, getting some rules on how this should be used so these vehicles are successful to the people that need them.”
The Council directed City Manager Karl Amylon to work with the various stakeholders to come up with a plan for establishing ADA taxi service in Ketchikan.
In other business, the Council withdrew its protest of First City Saloon’s liquor license renewal, but could reinstate that protest if the business doesn’t pay delinquent taxes by the Council’s April 21 meeting.
Also Thursday, the Council delayed voting on the second reading of an ordinance that would limit hawking in the downtown area. City Mayor Lew Williams III said that Tongass Trading Company officials expressed concern about the ordinance, and he wants to meet with them and talk it out before the Council finalizes the measure.
The ordinance would prohibit businesses and their employees from engaging customers with the intent of selling merchandise, unless the encounter takes place within the store. The ordinance is in response to excessive hawking during Ketchikan’s busy cruise ship season.
The measure will come back to the Council on April 21. The first cruise ship is due to dock on May 1.