Where Have All the Rental Vans Gone?

May 2, 2016   Opinion

New Mobility Magazine | Source

Tim Gilmer

The days of renting a wheelchair accessible minivan with hand controls from an adaptive van dealer are all but over. Too bad.

I love minivans. In 1984 I bought the first available minivan, a Plymouth Voyager. Then I purchased a 1988 Grand Caravan with the more powerful engine, followed by a used 1993 model. Now I own a 2001 Town and Country with 163,000 miles on it. I’m fortunate to be a low para with decent arm and shoulder strength. I use a tall wheelchair, so I can transfer with no need for a lowered floor. I take out one back seat, get in on the passenger’s side, pull my chair in with the wheels on, slide over to the driver’s seat (no console) and go.

I have rented dozens of minivans with hand controls from airport rental companies. I did that throughout the 1990s up until about 2012, renting in California, Florida, New York, Arizona, Hawaii — wherever business or pleasure took me. Then the airport rental companies stopped putting hand controls on their minivans.

Today if you try to rent a lowered floor minivan with hand controls from an adaptive van dealer, with rare exceptions, you will not succeed. You can rent one for someone else to drive — a nondisabled friend, spouse, or aide, but if you want a hand-controlled minivan to drive yourself, forget it.

The largest wheelchair accessible van dealer in the United States, Mobility Works, advertises wheelchair accessible minivans for rent. With 57 stores, they are one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. I called three Chicago area Mobility Works stores, looking to rent. The first store said they had one minivan with hand controls, but it was out, rented for one year. What? One year? The second store said the only hand-controlled minivan they had was out for two years. At $79 per day, that’s $59,250! Huh? The third store said Mobility Works has no hand-controlled minivans for rent in all of Illinois. Hmmm.

I called three other Mobility Works stores in different states but never found a single minivan available with hand controls. A smaller dealer (not Mobility Works) told me: “Ninety percent of people who want to rent a minivan are [nondisabled people] who need to pick up Grandma at the airport. It’s too much hassle putting hand controls on and taking them off. Besides, it’s not a problem for those who need hand controls if they plan ahead.”

Really? Not a problem for the single mom who’s a para and wants to drive her children on vacation? Not a problem for the businessman wheeler who flies frequently by himself and must have a ramp van? Not a problem for me when I wanted to visit my nephew who was dying in a hospital in a distant location 200 miles from the nearest airport?

I tried contacting the president/CEO of Mobility Works multiple times to clarify the company’s rental policy and have a discussion about the ADA, but … no response.

Have you had a similar experience? Let me know.