Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Philadelphia, wheelchair users protest inaccessible cabs

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

They came on wheels, bracing against the sun and heat to fight for a right some say they've never had - hailing a taxi cab.

About 150 wheelchair users, taxi drivers and supporters rallied outside the Convention Center yesterday to demand wheelchair-accessible cabs. Philadelphia is the only one of the nation's 10 largest cities without wheelchair-friendly taxis, said Juliet Marsala, executive director of Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania.

Marsala said DIA was preparing to file a lawsuit yesterday against the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which oversees the city's taxi fleet. The lawsuit asks that at least 50 cabs be wheelchair-accessible, she said.

Yesterday, dozens of protesters held signs targeting PPA Executive Director Vincent Fenerty.

But Fenerty said he and the Parking Authority support accessible taxis "1,001 percent."

"For anyone to say that me personally or my administration is against anything to do with wheelchair-accessibility is totally wrong," said Fenerty, who was paralyzed briefly as a teen from transverse myelitis. "I was there."

Fenerty said the authority doesn't have the power to force cabs to be accessible. All of Philadelphia's 1,600 cabs are owned by drivers or companies, and changes can be made only through state law or by owners themselves. Legislation to compel wheelchair-accessible cabs failed in 2006 and '10.

Meanwhile, people like German Parodi, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, must get around on their own.

Parodi, 27, of Northeast Philadelphia, said he wheels nearly 20 minutes every day, rain or shine, to take classes at Community College of Philadelphia.

And Michelle McCandless, 44, of Center City, said public transportation isn't an option.

"Sometimes the bus drivers won't even stop," McCandless said. "And paratransit can get there hours late."

On Saturday, McCandless had to wheel home after having a minor seizure in the Gallery. "There was no taxi to take," she said.