Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Sunday, November 24, 2013
City makes way for ADA cabs

Jim McCulloch, a 17-year resident of Key West, says he has few problems getting to places he wants to visit in his neighborhood.

"I'm fortunate to live on Frances Street, so I can walk most places in Old Town, whether it's to pick up ham salad from Jimmy Weekley or, if I really want to have a fun time, go see Mark Rossi at his complex," McCulloch said at Tuesday's City Commission meeting at Old City Hall.

"But if it starts raining, I'm walking home wet and I'm not as happy as when I went there."

Seated in his wheelchair, McCullouch showed up to urge commissioners to approve a law allowing local taxi companies to put Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant vehicles on the roads by converting licenses already held.

They did, easily, but not without a thorough discussion that began in September and involved City Attorney Shawn Smith to wrangle the language for the new law.

The commission refused to add any additional cars or vans on the streets of tiny Key West, which has 64 "passenger vehicle for hire" licenses available by law.

"We have too many vehicles in the street right now and I'm sticking to that," said City Commissioner Billy Wardlow. "We just don't have the room for one more vehicle."

But at the same time, the ADA taxi law -- approved 6-0 by the panel on Tuesday and due for final review in a week -- acknowledged, "an insufficient number of vehicles that are wheelchair accessible operating within the city."

Commissioners smiled at McCulloch name-checking two colleagues on the dais: Weekley, whose family owns Fausto's grocery stores, and Rossi, who owns a corner of Duval Street comprising bars and a strip club.

But the issue at hand was a troubling one for Key West, added McCulloch, who said he hoped the ordinance was the start of better transportation services for the disabled.

"I really don't think I can find reliable, accessible private or public transportation," McCulloch said. "I'm urging you to pass this ordinance tonight."

The county has a transportation program that gives the elderly and the disabled rides to medical appointments, but it can only serve so many people and can't help patients with visits scheduled from 3 to 7 p.m., according to a local health care professional.

Monroe County Transportation runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

"Transportation is a problem for our patients," wrote registered nurse Cheryl Meister, facility administrator of DaVita Key West Dialysis in Key Plaza.

Many Key West residents who require dialysis miss treatments due to a lack of transportation, as they are in wheelchairs or require extra help getting into cars, she said.

"They have no means of getting to dialysis and simply don't come on those days," wrote Meister. "With the support of an ADA-compliant vehicle from cab companies our patients have another option for them to get to their treatment and live a normal life."

Commissioners next meet 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

Glenn Stevenson, of Five Sixes Taxi, worked with city staff on crafting the ordinance over the past two months.

"We're asking to help people with disabilities," Stevenson told commissioners Tuesday, pointing out that no other cab companies attended the meeting for the law's first vote. "There is not one other operator here that wants to serve the community like our company."

Five Sixes has 13 commercial vehicle-for-hire licenses and has converted two as ADA-compliant cabs.

"By converting two, we guarantee always to have one vehicle on the road," said Stevenson. "If one's in an accident or in servicing, we can't help."

Five Sixes employs ADA-vehicle drivers who are specially trained, he said, and the service requires an additional five to 10 minutes more than the average pickup.

"The independent contractors don't want to be held up," Stevenson said. "Taxi drivers are all about moving, making money. With these vehicles, it does take more time to facilitate."

Since September, Five Sixes has had 93 advance reservations for ADA vehicles, Stevenson said. "There is a need for this transportation."

Still, Stevenson pointed out that Key West is unique when it comes to ADA-compliant cab laws. "Other cities don't ask companies to surrender a taxi license," he said.

Kevin Bowes, who has been driving the ADA-compliant cab for Five Sixes since September, told commissioners he sees the need for ADA cabs growing in Key West with tourists and locals alike.

Bowes said he was able to drive a young lady out to the sheriff's Animal Farm on Stock Island so she could attend the first-year birthday party for Maddie the Sloth.

"She probably wouldn't have been able to do that if we hadn't had this cab ready and on demand," Bowes said. "It takes a lot more time, more patience and a lot more care dealing with people in wheelchairs, finding a place for the ramp."

Bowes asked commissioners for "anything you can do to help us keep these vehicles on the road."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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