Agreement may yield wheelchair-accessible city taxicabs

Posted: June 15, 2014

Philadelphia could have dozens of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs by the end of the year, thanks in part to a federal court order signed Friday.

The order was a compromise between the Philadelphia Parking Authority and Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania, and was reached after a three-year court battle. The settlement is contingent on the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission's approving necessary regulations next week.

In the five-page decision, U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones III states that the Parking Authority will have to issue 150 taxicab medallions in the next 10 years exclusively for wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The order says 45 medallions have been authorized for issuance and mandates that the parties work together to advertise the wheelchair-accessible cabs.

"We're thrilled," said Nancy Salandra, vice president of the disabilities advocacy group Liberty Resources. "It's been a long, arduous process."

Friday's order stemmed from a 2011 federal lawsuit accusing the state-run Parking Authority, which regulates city cabs, of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by not having wheelchair-accessible taxis.

Gov. Corbett signed legislation in 2012 that paved the way for wheelchair-accessible cabs by allowing the authority to auction 15 new medallions a year until the total reaches 150. The authority had argued that not all 150 had to be for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

"The authority and the plaintiffs negotiated this order and then asked the court to approve it," Dennis Weldon, the authority's lawyer, said Friday. "Philadelphia desperately needs wheelchair-accessible taxicabs, and we are very happy to be in a position to work directly with the disabled community to begin to solve this flaw in our city's transportation infrastructure."

Disabled residents and visitors have had to rely on SEPTA, which has a limited service area, or paratransit, which is often late or overbooked and must be reserved at least a day in advance.

If the review commission doesn't pass the regulations, "then we're back to square one," Stephen Gold, lawyer for Disabled in Action, said. The plaintiffs would have 30 days to decide whether to continue the lawsuit.

If the regulations are passed, then the order is enforced and the court action is dropped.

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