Senior Power: “What’s a taxi script?”

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday May 21, 2010 - 12:07:00 PM

The word "scrip" may be unfamiliar; it is sometimes heard as "script". The noun scrip refers to a temporary substitute for currency. Scrips originated as payment of employees and where regular money was unavailable, such as remote coal towns and occupied countries in war time. Some communities provide discounted coupons or vouchers, referred to as taxi scrip, for registered persons who are unable to access regular transit. 

Locally, AC Transit buses, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART,) East Bay Paratransit, taxicabs, and wheelchair-accessible vans help to meet transportation needs of citizens, who may have difficulty using buses and BART trains and stations. The Alameda Country Transportation Improvement Authority (ACTIA), at and 1-866-901-7272, has an information packet on the 2 types of paratransit services available in the county: city-based transportation programs and Americans with Disability Act (ADA) paratransit. Residents of Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Castro Valley, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Newark, Oakland, Piedmont, Pleasanton, San Lorenzo, San Leandro and Sunol may apply for paratransit services. Eligibility requirements vary. 

Albany Paratransit, (510) 524-9122, Subsidized taxi program (reimbursement) and door-to-door, wheelchair-accessible shopping shuttle for Albany residents who are 80+ years old. 

Berkeley Paratransit Services (BPS), Housing and Community Services Department, 2180 Milvia Street, 2nd floor, 94704. Funded in part through county Measure B grants, which are administered by ACTIA. (510) 981-7269 for an application and more information. Si necesita ayuda en español, llame a Roxana Andrade al (510) 981-5402; 981-5423 for Chinese. Subsidized taxi scrip for Berkeley residents age 70+ and whose incomes are not more than 30 % of the Area Median or certified as disabled by East Bay Paratransit. About 720 residents use taxicabs and pay with Berkeley’s taxi scrip. 

Emeryville Paratransit. (510) 596-3730. 

Subsidized taxi program (reimbursement) for residents age 62+. Emeryville Senior Center members are aware of commission on aging, advisory council, and taxi-related meetings. 

Oakland Paratransit. (510) 238-3036. Subsidized taxi program (scrip) and door-to-door, wheelchair-accessible transportation for Oakland and Piedmont residents age 70+ with proof of age. Each eligible participant may purchase a quarterly amount of taxi scrip books at a discount. With prior approval, participants may purchase additional taxi scrip books for a higher fee to be used for medical appointments. Program participants may purchase taxi scrip books by mail or in person by appointment. Participants arrange their own rides by calling one of the taxi companies under contract with the City. 



Berkeley seniors enjoy programs like taxi scrip that acknowledge and provide for their needs. “Do you have taxi scrip?” was among the questions I asked senior citizens (“Meet some not-young members of the community.” Planet, April 27 and 29). Some claimed having never heard of it; others did not want to discuss it. Few have cars. Some used to take the bus but can no longer “get up that high step.” 


By 2002, an unspoken problem had begun to be articulated: treatment by some taxi drivers of customers who wanted and needed to use scrip instead of cash – mostly seniors. But so-called sensitivity training did not deal with the nitty gritty of ageism-sexism. Moreover, not all drivers would attend. 

At the time, senior centers programmed advocacy forums, and testimony confirmed the drivers’ lack of driving skills as well as their disparate treatment of old women. That many of the drivers perpetuate traditions they enjoy abroad does not mitigate the problem. 

In 2003, Berkeley’s program that subsidizes taxi and van rides for elderly and disabled was described as “in disarray, leaving participants scrambling for transportation to the grocery store and doctor’s office…” (“Taxi scrip service a mess, users say” by David Scharfenberg. Planet, July 25, 2003.) 

The status quo (2010): 




• Drivers and dispatchers sometimes attempt to ascertain whether a rider who fits their senior citizen profile intends to use scrip. • Berkeley senior citizens’ scrip may be rejected by drivers who assume passengers will not refuse to produce cash instead. Few respond to intimidation by simply exiting the cab. Some can be counted on to dig deep and pay the fare (the rate was increased last year) plus a cash tip. • As a scrip expiration date approaches (and sometimes when it has passed,) taxi drivers ask for “your leftover scrip.” • Drivers are usually reluctant to allow a customer in the front passenger seat, which would allow a bit more space for arthritic, knee-surgery, and cane-dependent elders. 




(At the opposite extreme, Riya Bhattacharjee reported in her April 30 Berkeley News Roundup: “Cabbie Arrested for Sex Assaults.” A cab driver was arrested by the Berkeley Police Department for sexually assaulting women passengers in his car in 2008 and 2010. According to victims, 29-year-old Ali Al Obadi of Oakland asked them to sit with him in the front seat, following which he proceeded to forcibly hold their hands and grope their breasts.) 


Why don’t we hear more complaints from seniors? Because fear can be their big thing. Riding in a taxi while the operator is driving one-handedly and or chatting on one of his phones is risky. 

Why don’t we hear more complaints from men? Most seniors are women, most low-income seniors are women, most seniors who rely on taxis are women, and … 

Some persons needing a taxi ride are unable to board and exit a van-type taxi’s high steps and to manage opening and closing the sliding door. This type of cab seats 5 persons, whereas the conventional cab’s rear seat accommodates 2 or 3. Were it not a requirement that one board the next-in-line, van-cabs would not be a problem for elderly persons. Requiring passengers to board the first taxicab in the Center/Shattuck lineup is possibly a fairness-related cautionary instituted to maintain peace among the heterogeneous drivers. 

There appears to be little intercourse between the Berkeley Commission on Aging (COA) and its constituency. The COA is “Charged with identifying the needs of the aging, creating awareness of these needs, and encouraging improved standards of services to the aging. Council shall appoint one of its members as liaison.” I wonder how many COA members get taxi scrip and or are eligible for it. 

The February “Tri-Center Nugget…Berkeley Senior Centers” contained a brief item: “Berkeley’s paratransit program is looking to seniors for input on prioritizing its program services, in light of likely revenue reductions, as well as ideas on how to improve and strengthen these ongoing services…” The BPS presentation at the COA’s February meeting was about the annual plan and budget vis a vis taxi scrip. It apparently attracted one member of COA’s constituency (myself) and 2 members of “the public” from the Center for Independent Living (CIL). The possibility of a reduction of $20,000 in the Paratransit budget on July 1 due to declining revenue was announced. 

Possible ways to reduce taxi scrip-related costs were listed on a handout: 




“--Change age to 75 or 80 years of age --No longer grandfather in the past recipients whose income was in the 30-50% of income, as opposed to the current regulation of 30%. --Not being as lenient to give out replacement scripts when lost, etc. --Are currently re-certifying recipients as a form of auditing program. --Not paying back taxi drivers who turn in expired script. 

--Introduce a co-pay of $2.00, payment due to taxi driver. 

--Require I.D. at time of service to minimize fraud. 

--Subsidize bus passes for seniors and disabled clients to reduce need for other programs.” 

When senior citizens cease using their scrip while curtailing needed trips, city fathers may wrongly correlate the amount of scrip being redeemed with the number of eligible seniors who need taxi scrip. Many of Berkeley’s aged population need to know about taxi scrip. Many of those who may be aware of its existence do not apply. Others either do not apply for or do not use their scrip, mainly because of taxicab experiences. 






Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at 

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