Advocates Outraged Over Wheelchair Accessible Taxis

The Philadelphia Parking Authority’s monthly board meeting Wednesday drew a heated crowd of advocates for people with disabilities after its final version of the latest taxi regulations indicated only 15 of the city’s new 150 cabs would be wheelchair accessible vehicles.

"If you think you are only going to give us 15 taxis, you are out of your mind," said Nancy Salandra, nonprofit Liberty Resources’ director of independent living services. "We are supposed to be a city of first class."

Salandra was one of a dozen people – many in wheelchairs -- who expressed their confusion and outrage over the documents the Authority submitted to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission late last month.

The Authority plans to auction off 45 new taxicab medallions this year and another 15 each year between 2015 and 2022, upping the total number of medallions in the city to 1,750 from 1,600.  Initial reports indicated this year’s disbursement would only be issued for new, wheelchair accessible vehicles, which only constitute seven of the current fleet of cabs.

But one line in the PPA’s final rulemaking order -- "Only the first 15 authorized medallions are statutorily required to be wheelchair accessible vehicles (‘WAVs’)" – caused an uproar among the advocates, who accused the board members of negligence.

"What sort of vision do you have for the city? Do you want to have an inclusive equal access city with a fully accessible fleet?" asked Matthew Clark, a member of ADAPT, a national grassroots disability rights organization.

The PPA board members were quick to explain the group was overthinking the sentence and the plan was always to issue all 150 medallions to WAVs.

"It was never the intent to only have 15 WAV vehicles," said PPA Executive Director Vince Fenerty, who confessed a personal commitment to the cause during the hour-long meeting.

"When I was just out of high school, I was struck with transverse spinal myelitis," he said. One symptom of the neurological disorder is paralysis.

"I was in a wheelchair for four months," Fenerty said. "My mother had to take me to the doctor and hospital…and I had to slide across a Yellow Cab back seat. I know what it is like."

After the admission, Fenerty promised that all 150 medallions would be issued exclusively to WAVs.

"I give you my word," he said. "When I give my word that something is going to be done correctly, it will be done correctly."

But describing his little-known experience with paralysis and giving his personal guarantee was not enough to assuage the advocates in attendance. Many stayed after the meeting concluded to voice their concerns that wording in official documentation would override Fenerty’s "word."

"There is a large minority in the city that you don’t provide accessible taxis too," Salandra said.

PPA’s final rulemaking is scheduled to go before the Independent Regulatory Review commission on June 19. 

Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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