City staff will seek comment from Human Services Committee members tonight on a plan to revamp the city's taxicab coupon program for seniors and persons with disabilities.
The proposal would switch from a paper coupon system to a pre-paid debit-card approach and would expand the services that participants can use from just taxicabs to include Uber, Lyft, Go Go Grandparent, and CJE Senior Life's ride service, as well as CTA, Metra and Pace.
The current program provides $4 discount coupons for Evanston Benefit Card holders for one-way rides within Evanston, Lincolnwood, Skokie and Wilmette.
The program is capped at 10 one-way rides per user per week. A total of 671 people now participate in the program, out of 3,157 eligible benefit card holders.
And just 39 people -- or just 6 percent of the users have used 45 percent of the total coupons purchased over the 12 months ending last September.
City officials say the cost of the progrma has been escalating sharply -- up from under $14,000 a month last year to nearly $26,000 a month this year.
Meanwhile the program has drawn increased complaints from riders, and from taxi drivers who complain that the coupons don't cover the cost of providing the service.
In additon, with the rise in ride-hailing services liek Uber and Lyft, the number of taxi drivers in Evanston decreased by 40 percent from 2013 to 2016, and taxis, a staff memo says, are about 50 percent more expensive than the ride-hailing services.
Under the proposed new Transportation for Evanston program, participants could load up to $75 a month on the special debit card and the city would match that amount dollar-for-dollar. Users would pay full fare, but would be able to use any service provider.
The proposal could turn out be be costly for the city, though. If all 671 current users switched to the new program and used the full $75 a month city match, the program would cost the city over $600,000 a year -- more than twice what it's spending on the current program.
And with only about 21 percent of the eligible seniors using the current taxi program, there's a potential for even more expense for the city, if the new program proves more successful.