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Taxi firm claims $10 fee doesn’t discriminate against the disabled

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An attorney for a major Arizona taxi firm is defending the $10 additional fee charged for those who want a van, saying that does not discriminate against those with disabilities.

In legal papers filed in federal court, Philip May acknowledged that Total Transit Inc., which operates cabs under the Discount Taxi label, does charge a fee for those who specifically seek a van. That can include taxis that are “accessible” to those in motorized wheelchairs.

But May said that $10 “on-demand van fee” is not aimed at those in wheelchairs.

He said the charge “is applied uniformly to all customers making an on-demand request for any van” in the fleet. And May said the charge is “entirely independent of the van’s use or accessibility and the passenger’s mobility.”

But May wants U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa to do more than dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Arizona Center for Disability Law. He also wants the judge to say that Total Transit is free to stop offering van service entirely without risking another lawsuit if the company decides that service no longer makes sense.

The original lawsuit was filed last year on behalf of three individuals, all of whom use power wheelchairs, as well as the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Attorney Jessica Ross said users require a taxi that has a ramp or lift to be able to get in. Ross said Discount Cab provides them, but only if the customer pays a $10 surcharge.

That, she said violates state and federal disability laws.

“Our clients don’t have the option of taking the standard taxi,” Ross said, calling it “discriminatory” to require they pay the additional fee.

Ross acknowledged that a company that rents cars and vans could charge a higher rate for a suitable vehicle, such as one that had a ramp or could be operated with hand controls. But she said taxis, as providers of public accommodations and transportation services, are different.

May does not agree. But he also is setting the stage for what happens if Humetewa sides with challengers.

In a counterclaim filed with the court, May argued that forbidding Total Transit from charging the $10 fee to customers with disabilities “would adversely affect” the company’s business. If that is the case, the attorney argued, Total Transit may simply decide the best way to avoid being accused of charging a discriminatory fee might be to not provide on-demand services at all.

So he wants Humetewa to rule whether his client would run afoul of the law by dropping the service entirely.

In filing the original lawsuit, Ross acknowledged that part of the reason she sued is the fact that Discount Cab does have such vehicles.

“They’re not required to have accessible vehicles in their fleet,” she conceded at the time. “But certain standards apply once they do get accessible vehicles.”

No date has been set for a hearing.

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