Philadelphia’s effort to get more wheelchair-accessible cabs on the road hit a bump this week, when no one bid on two new taxi medallions put up for auction.
There are currently 1,600 cabs in the city, but only seven can now accommodate a wheelchair. Over the next few months, the Philadelphia Parking Authority will auction off 45 new licenses for accessible vehicles.
The last time the PPA expanded the fleet was in advance of the 2000 Republican National Convention, when 200 medallions were auctioned off.
Dennis Weldon, the agency’s general counsel, said the lack of early bidding could be due to a number of issues, including unfamiliarity with the process.
“This is new, having a new medallion go on the street is new,” he said. “And I think this is just kind of an adjustment period the industry is going through.”
Part of that adjustment is just how much the value of the medallions could decrease if ride-sharing companies including Uber and Lyft get permission to operate locally.
The startups allow anyone to provide rides in a personal vehicle for a fee, bypassing the traditional medallion system many big cities including New York, Chicago and Boston use to regulate the marketplace.
Legislation to allow their operation in parts or all of Pennsylvania is on hold in Harrisburg.
“The whole industry is falling into chaos,” said Ronald Blount with the Unified Taxi Workers of Philadelphia.
He opposes the ride-sharing companies — and the PPA’s auction system. A fairer system would be to hold a lottery for veteran cabbies to obtain one of the new medallions for free, Blount said, rather than pricing them so high that only larger players could compete.
The starting bid for new medallions is set at $475,000, about what they go for in the private market. The price for a medallion in 2005 was just $65,000.
Money collected during the auctions, which run weekly through the end of the year, will be placed in a fund that Weldon said will be used to “improve the taxicab industry” in Philadelphia.