By Pat Loeb

CITY HALL (CBS) — The ride-share services Uber and Lyft have been a bane for taxis, but they’ve also delivered a particularly dispiriting defeat to the Philadelphia residents with disabilities.

The disabilities community fought for years to get wheelchair accessible cabs on city streets, and it was finally about to happen. Two years ago, the state passed legislation creating 150 taxi medallions specifically for such cabs, but just as they went on sale, along came Uber and Lyft, killing the market for new medallions, and sending activists such as Rebecca Hamell of Liberty Resources back to the drawing board.

“That old legislation, that awesome legislation that I think really is in the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that would have given us access to everything as a civil right, that would have made us 100% wheelchair accessible, we’re not even talking about that any more. We’re just talking about basic access,” she said.

Advocates have gotten more active as a bill to legalize Uber and Lyft makes its way through Harrisburg, with no mandate that they accommodate wheelchairs. Uber says it is doing so voluntarily and offering better service than taxis.

“We’re proud that UberWAV has made it possible to get an affordable, wheelchair-accessible vehicle within minutes, while many other options can leave someone waiting for hours without a ride,” spokesman Craig Ewer said in an emailed statement. “Uber is hard at work improving accessible transportation choices in Philadelphia, and we believe there is always more to be done in this area.”

Hamell commends Uber’s effort and gives the disabilities community part of the credit.

“Until a few months ago, UberWAV cost far more than UberX and typically had no vehicles available whenever I checked the app.” she wrote in an email. “It was only when our coalition started bringing attention to this inequality in the media that Uber dropped the price and improved WAV availability.”

But she worries about how effective that will be if Uber succeeds in quashing taxis’ ability to provide WAV service.

“Uber can afford to be cheaper than taxis because they pay so much less to the PPA and operate with far fewer regulations,” she wrote.

“History has taught us that disabled people cannot afford to leave our civil rights to market forces. In order to have equal access, we need legislation ensuring that a meaningful portion of the ride-sharing fleet is wheelchair accessible.”