The Fairfax ladies have it better than most: Their wealthy county offers fairly comprehensive public transit and paratransit service. Seniors in other suburbs aren’t so lucky. And in many rural areas, public transportation is nonexistent. There is no greater barrier to independent aging than the inability of elderly folks to get around on their own.— Stranded Seniors in internet newsletter Governing the states and localities by Christopher Swope.
Life is filled with swift transitions. This is something that the residents of Prince George’s County have come to know for a fact. In June of 2012 Prince George’s County was being recognized in our region for beginning a wheelchair-accessible taxi service. Check out one example of the very positive press coverage at the following link:
Furthermore, at Christmas last year, I wrote an ecstatic column about the new accessible taxicabs headed for the county. Advocates for seniors and the disabled were thrilled about the new taxis. Anticipation was high. These new transportation vehicles seemed like a wonderful Christmas gift for Prince George’s Residents.
My grandmother used to repeat the old saying “There’s plenty of slip twixt the cup and the lip” meaning that in life things can be totally spilled and ruined before you can even take a taste. I asked my friend attorney Karren Jo Pope-Onwukwe to write a column bringing readers up to date about why the promised taxis are not currently operating. Karren, an Elder Law and Disability Rights attorney is Co-chair of Prince George’s Advocates for Community-based Transit. Here is what she wrote:
“There are fifteen (15) wheelchair-accessible taxis parked in a Gaithersburg lot. There are two cases in the Prince George’s County Circuit Court (CAL12-09783 and CAL13-16970). There are fifteen (15) wheelchair-accessible taxi certificates in Prince George’s County. What started out as a great beginning for Prince George’s County has come to a screeching halt.
After the initial award of fifteen wheelchair-accessible certificates to Accessible Taxi, on March 28, 2012, competitor Silver Cab Company filed a lawsuit asking that the Circuit Court not allow Accessible Taxi to receive the fifteen taxi licenses. This case has yet to come to trial. Less than one year later at an appeal hearing held on April 16, 2013 the Taxicab Board of Prince George’s County ruled that Accessible Taxi would be allowed to keep only five of the fifteen certificates they had originally been awarded in Prince George’s County for taxis that are specifically equipped to transport passengers with disabilities who require wheelchairs. According to the Prince George’s County government, “Accessible was not operating its taxicabs in a manner to adequately serve the overall public, did not proceed in a collaborative manner and failed to comply with other County Code requirements.” On June 13, 2013 Accessible Taxi filed a lawsuit to appeal the decision of the Taxicab Board. That case has yet to come to trial.
In June of 2011, Accessible Taxi founder David Mohebbi applied for a grant through the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. This was a New Freedom Program grant. The COG had challenged area businesses to apply for grants to expand transportation options for the area’s disabled, and Accessible Taxi was given a grant. The new taxis, therefore, would cost our county very little. However, partially as a result of the lawsuits mentioned above which have stopped all progress toward getting the taxis on the roads, the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments rescinded their grant of $339,000. Basically the accessible taxi service was shut down in its first year of operation.
No one is willing to provide a “for the record” statement or they were not in the department that had oversight of this matter at the time it occurred. Understandably, all attorneys involved in the litigation that Karren spoke with are unwilling to provide “for the record” statements concerning ongoing litigation. Some people willing to discuss the matter, whisper that citizens are caught in the middle of a “turf battle” within the powerful and politically influential local taxicab industry.
As we herald the building of multi-million dollar shopping centers and casinos, Prince George’s County continues to lag behind the region in providing and managing basic public transportation needs. This is a smart growth quality of life issue that should be front and center. The Department of Public Works and Transportation and the Taxicab Board have inherited a mess. I would suggest that this program would be better served if it were managed as a pilot program under the auspices of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and removed from even the appearance of any local industry or political influence until the program is up and running. In fact, our comprehensive public transportation plan should address the accessible taxi issue as well as The Bus, the Purple Line to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and rail over the bridge or we will all be sitting in traffic waiting to get to the next shopping center or casino, with or without our wheelchairs.”
Thanks for reading. Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and a New Year full of happiness and peace.