Cabbies say Phila. wheelchair rule would break them

Refik Kalyoncu demonstrates his wheelchair-accessible cab, one of only three in the city. The city aims to phase them in.
Refik Kalyoncu demonstrates his wheelchair-accessible cab, one of only three in the city. The city aims to phase them in. (MONIKA ZALESKA / Staff)
Posted: January 28, 2012

The Philadelphia Parking Authority's proposal to make every taxi in the city wheelchair-accessible by 2016 would drive cabbies out of business, owners and drivers said this week.

The proposal, whose first phase calls for 300 wheelchair-accessible taxis by the end of this year, is nudging operators "more with the stick than with the carrot," said Alex Friedman, owner of Checker Cab Dispatch. Friedman said he is wary of the high costs of the plan, which would mandate that every medallion cab be wheelchair-accessible by 2016.

"This issue was never communicated properly with the taxicab community," said Friedman, who dispatches one of the only three wheelchair-accessible cabs currently running in the city.

Friedman said that he supported increasing availability of the cabs, but that it's not "economically viable" to convert or replace the fleet of about 100 vehicles his company owns. Friedman's wheelchair-friendly van currently gets under 10 jobs a week, he said.

The cost of a wheelchair-accessible cab is around $40,000, while a regular cab costs around $9,000, he said. Retrofitting a cab would cost around $15,000. These costs come after the purchase of a medallion, around $400,000 these days - driven up by large cab companies that can afford that price.

"All they are going to do is cause taxi owners to file lawsuits," said Ronald Blount, a committee member of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania. Blount insisted that the proposal would put cabbies out of business.

Dennis Weldon, the Parking Authority's general counsel, said the proposal was a preliminary draft made public to begin a "robust discussion" of the issue. He said one of the major problems is pinning down big medallion holders, because they tend to spread out their holdings over many small corporations, making it nearly impossible to target only larger operations.

Last week's proposal calls for a "random selection" to determine which 300 medallion holders will have to convert their cabs, or buy new ones, within 90 days. This would make 20 percent of Philadelphia's taxicabs wheelchair-accessible. A hearing on the matter is to be held Feb. 15.

Before this past fall, none of the 1,600 cabs in the city was wheelchair-accessible. In July, Disabled in Action filed a federal suit against the Parking Authority, alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Weldon had a settlement conference with the group on Wednesday and said he was hopeful a resolution would be reached soon.

State Rep. Nicholas A. Miccarelli 3d (R., Delaware), whose 162d District covers part of Philadelphia International Airport, said he was concerned about the lack of wheelchair-accessible cabs at the heavily trafficked airport.

"Our job as legislators is to find the common ground between helping the special-needs community and ensuring we don't put our medallion owners in an impossible situation," said Miccarelli. "Right now, there are not enough cabs on the street to take care of the demand. The proposal has been released to address that."


Contact staff writer Monika Zaleska at 215-854-4904 or mzaleska@phillynews.com.

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