Starting bids cut for Philly taxi medallions

 A model demonstrates the  features of a wheelchair-accessible taxi at the 2013 New York International Auto Show. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

A model demonstrates the features of a wheelchair-accessible taxi at the 2013 New York International Auto Show. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The Philadelphia Parking Authority’s plan to auction 45 new wheelchair-accessible taxi medallions has hit a snag.

The starting bid for the medallions, which are required to operate a cab in the city, was set at $475,000. After receiving no bids on the first 20 put up on the block, the PPA board intends to lower the opening bid to $350,000.

Advocates say the slow rollout is a further burden on those with disabilities. Currently, just eight of the 1,600 cabs operating in Philadelphia are wheelchair-accessible.

“Having independence to go where you need to go without any hassle, that’s very important, just as it is to non-disabled people,” said Bruce McElrath, director of the Disabilities Rights Advocacy Group.

It may not be the opening bid price alone that is muddying the process.

Everett Abitbol, owner of Freedom Taxi, said the city hasn’t done enough to entice the industry. In New York, drivers are paid more for operating accessible vans, he said. And in Chicago, cabs are able to skip to the front of the line at airports.

“I felt that we could have basically taken bits and pieces from each market and created a really robust program here in Philadelphia, but none of that has occurred,” said Abitbol.

Freedom Taxi operates the city’s small fleet of wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The cost of a van can be as high as $43,000, while a non-accessible used Crown Victoria might be run one-tenth of that, Abitbol said.

He’s also critical of the PPA’s decision to auction off several medallions each week, rather than all at once.

“It’s a nightmare for our bank, for our insurance company,” said Abitbol. “I’ve never seen an auction handled that way.”

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