Key West is one commission vote away from implementing a new law allowing taxi companies to put vehicles that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act on island streets.
Commissioner Jimmy Weekley for a third time has brought back the proposal to allow taxi owners to voluntarily convert one standard cab license in order to allow the ADA-accessible vehicle on the streets full-time, rather than by reservation only.
Commissioners will vote on the measure for the second and final time on March 18.
The proposal defines a "wheelchair-accessible vehicle" as a cab that a person in a wheelchair or scooter-type machine may enter and exit independently or with assistance.
The retooled proposal would give all taxi fleets the opportunity to make the addition, with each allowed one license conversion.
In recent months, the only company pushing for the new law was the Five Sixes, which has two ADA taxis.
Five Sixes' owner Jan Dolan said his company can't deal with all of the demand.
"We have local people I take to dialysis and the hospital, so yes, we do need additional handicapped accessible vehicles on the road," Dolan told commissioners.
A 5-2 vote Tuesday at Old City Hall kept the proposal alive and ready for a second and final review at the next commission meeting.
Commissioners Mark Rossi and Tony Yaniz dissented.
Voting yes were Mayor Craig Cates and Commissioners Teri Johnston, Clayton Lopez, Billy Wardlow and Weekley.
Jim McCulloch, a Key West resident since 1997 who relies on a wheelchair, urged commissioners to make the new ADA taxi law happen.
"I like this ordinance; it removes that unfair playing field," said McCulloch. "It seems everyone has the same playing field right now."
This change won't add more cars to the island's narrow streets, said McCulloch.
People confined to wheelchairs are already coming to Key West, McCulloch said, but they must find their own means.
"They're getting down here via private transportation, each one in an individual car or van," said McCulloch. "They're not taking buses. When you have a number of people using these cabs, you'll see a loss in vehicles, not a gain."
Michael Deegan, a 20-year veteran of the Key West taxi industry who still owns a license and previously ran a company, said the revised proposal will work.
"This is definitely the best way to go about it in a free market system, to allow the owners of licenses to each put out one additional cab," Deegan told commissioners. "It looks like a maximum of eight is possible.
But the local market will probably provide only four or five new cabs, Deegan said.
"Taxi cabs reduce the overall traffic in town," Deegan said. "They keep people out of cars, period."
The Five Sixes company has invested in two ADA-complaint vehicles and keeps them on standby, as they are licensed differently than the cabs that freely roam.
A Keyswide agency advocating for the disabled praised the commission for the measure.
"Key West residents and visitors needing wheelchair accessible taxi services have extremely limited options: There is one cab company with one accessible vehicle in service, and advance reservation for that specific taxi is required," wrote Cindy McKnight, chairwoman of the Florida Keys Council for People with Disabilities, in a letter to the commission.
"The freedom others enjoy, and the convenience of simply calling a cab, is virtually foreclosed to those in wheelchairs," McKnight wrote.
MaryBeth McCulloch, who is married to Jim McCulloch, said people with disabilities don't want, or necessarily need, "an ambulance" to take them places in Key West.
Cabbies can learn to use the equipment, she said.
"They want to have the option of taking a taxi like you do, like I do," MaryBeth McCulloch said. "We can do it in many other cities. I can do it, so I know a monkey can do it."