Action News Investigation: Philadelphia taxis discriminating against disabled?

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An Action News undercover investigation is exposing a disturbing problem. (WPVI)

There are 1,600 taxis in Philadelphia, tasked with serving all residents and visitors to our city.

But an Action News undercover investigation is exposing a disturbing problem.

Some of those drivers may be discriminating against passengers, failing to pick up some people when they need help the most.

Action News was tipped off drivers were allegedly discriminating against people with disabilities. So our team geared up with hidden cameras, and with the help of three volunteers we took to the streets.

What we discovered was so alarming, the Philadelphia Parking Authority is promising to investigate - and pull licenses, if necessary.

A stroke in 2008 left former truck driver Joe Watson of Southwest Philadelphia paralyzed. In the blink of an eye, his world changed.

Watson went from being independent to depending on the help of others.

This past summer he ventured into the city to pick up his medication.

After calling and waiting five hours at a downtown hotel, a taxi finally came.

But what happened next, Watson said, left him stranded again and completely discouraged.

"He looked me in my face and drove off. It makes you feel like less than human," Watson said.

So with the help of volunteers Ed Bomba, Williena Owes and Fran Fulton, we went undercover to see what taxi drivers would do if they could choose between picking up an able-bodied person or a person with a disability.

Our camera was rolling as two cab drivers pulled a U-turn to pick up me while passing Owes, who was in a wheelchair.

Most drivers claimed they just didn't see our volunteers.

Another cab driver who passed Owes and stopped for me, suddenly said he had a customer when we questioned him.

"I have to pick up a customer," he said.

Another cabbie said our guide dog, Cooper, wasn't wearing a sign.

"I didn't see the sign by the dog. I think they have a service sign by the dog," the cab driver said.

Others just said they don't "do" dogs.

One actually argued he was being chivalrous by picking me up instead of someone nearby who is blind.

"I gave you priority because you are a lady," the cabbie said.

In instances where we put our volunteers on the streets alone NOT during rush hour, many empty cabs did stop to accommodate Bomba and his dog.

But on one day, nine empty cabs passed up Owes, before a one finally stopped.

"My identity changed from a human being to a crippled person," Owes said.

"I honestly didn't know the extent of the discrimination," Bomba said.

We took a few of our videos to Vince Fenerty, the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA), the agency that licenses cab drivers.

"I find this just disgusting," Fenerty said.

Fenerty said what we showed him was a blatant violation of federal and city regulations.

"It's my opinion if people treat the handicapped and the blind like this they do not belong serving the public with a license," Fenerty said.

And he promised to take appropriate action.

The PPA recently issued 150 new medallions for handicapped-accessible taxis. They will be added to the city's fleet at a rate of 15 a year over the next 10 years.

The agency is also pushing lawmakers to pass new regulations that would require all new taxis to be handicapped-accessible.

Related Topics:
special reportAction News Investigationphilly newscab driverstaxitaxi driverstaxi ridersdiscriminationdisability
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