Seeking to expand access, one cab at a time

Everyone likes to step out and enjoy themselves here and again – a day at the museum, a date at the movies. Or maybe you just need to get to a doctor’s appointment, your son’s recital, or a job interview.

Philadelphia taxi

Photo courtesy: Cameron J. King/Flickr

Some people drive. Others rely on SEPTA. A few bike.

But if you use a wheelchair, taxicabs generally are not an option.

In fact, in a city of 1.5 million-plus people (and growing, according to the latest U.S. Census figures), there are fewer than 10 wheelchair-accessible taxicabs legally operating in the city. For the general public, there’s about 1 cab for every 968 residents; for those in wheelchairs, that ratio swells to 1 for every 18,408, give or take.

Such limited options pose limited access, a point that City Councilman David Oh has been making.

The Committee on Global Opportunities and Creative/Innovative Economy as well as the Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities engaged in a round of hearings today to dig a little deeper into this issue, to help ensure that Philadelphia IS “a globally competitive, world-class destination city.”

Achieving that goal is imperative, said PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle, who testified Tuesday at City Hall at a public hearing on the topic.

taxi_access(b)_022514

Thomas H. Earle (r.), PCHR chair and CEO of Liberty Resources Inc., testifies before a City Council committee on the need to increase Philadelphia’s share of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs.

“This level of segregation is unacceptable and is an embarrassing insult to the civil rights movement,” said Earle, who also heads Liberty Resources Inc. “Here we are in 2014 in Philadelphia, one of the largest cities in the United States, 24 years after the passage of the ADA with the disabled community still struggling to be an integrated part of society.”

Nearly 1 in 10 city residents rely on wheelchairs or other ambulatory support devices. And if ensuring access for locals weren’t enough, there’s also the factor of possibly leaving money on the table.

By some estimates, American adults with disabilities or reduced mobility spend about $13.6 billion a year on travel, whereas their European counterparts also spend in the billions. Reports on the Australian tourism market note that disabled tourists represent about 16 percent of their total market – nearly 1 in 6 visitors. Advocacy groups such as the European Network for Accessible Tourism and the Open Doors Organization have been touting these economic benefits for years.

Since tourism is a leading industry – as Philadelphia is chockfull of attractions like the Liberty Bell, the National Museum of American Jewish History, the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, just to name a few treasures – hailing the right solution on cabs could mean increased dollars for a city in need of them. It certainly couldn’t hurt. 

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