By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A City Council committee today put the microscope on Philadelphia’s taxicabs: specifically, why there aren’t more of them, and why more of them are not handicapped-accessible.

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But the lawmakers found no easy answers.

At the hearing, Ed Grose of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association said increasing the number of taxicab medallions would increase competition among cab owners.  And that, he said, would improve service.

Grose (in top photo) also criticized the lack of handicapped-accessible cabs in the city.

“Juno, Alaska, at one point had more taxicabs for disabled riders than Philadelphia,” he told the hearing today. “Other cities are doing it.  Small towns are doing it.  And we are doing our riders a disservice.”

Officials from the Philadelphia Parking Authority, the state agency which oversees taxis and limousines in Philadelphia, testified that their efforts to boost the number of cabs overall, and those for the handicapped, is hindered by cab owners who lobby against the changes in the state legislature.

PPA executive director Vince Fennerty said state lawmakers agreed to let the Parking Authority issue about 150 new medallions this year on top of the existing 1,600 medallions, although he had hoped for 200 more.

And he said at least 15 of the new cabs will be wheelchair accessible.

Vince Fennerty, executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.   Image from City of Phila. TV)

Vince Fennerty, executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Image from City of Phila. TV)

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“There was a lot of lobbying going back and forth on how many should be wheelchair-accessible vehicles,” Fennerty said.  “We believed it should be a little more than 15 per year.  The cab ownership associations believed it should have been less than 15 per year.  We pushed it.  And the best push I could get was 15 a year out of the legislature.”

But Fennerty vowed that if the 15 new wheelchair-accessible cabs are well used by the disabled community, he’ll add more in succeeding years:

“If that is the case, we will issue 15 more (medallions) the next year, 15 more the following year.”

But councilman Dennis O’Brien, who regularly advocates for the disabled, was not satisfied with Fennerty’s responses.

“It’s not acceptable that we don’t begin to approach what they’ve done in New York City and other venues across the country,” O’Brien (below) said.

(City councilman-at-large Dennis O'Brien.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(City councilman-at-large Dennis O’Brien. Image from City of Phila. TV)

Taxi owners testified that mandating wheelchair accessibility poses a tremendous cost burden, while advocates for the disabled testified that a greater burden is borne by the handicapped who cannot find adequate transportation.

German Parodi, with the group “Disabled in Action,” said Philadelphia cannot be world-class without more accessible cabs:

“The flower show, the car show — these shows bring national and international attention,” he said.  “(But) a person with a disability:  how am I going to get around?  There’s no way.”

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