WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- D.C. City Council Chairman Kwame Brown joined national advocates for people with disabilities and district residents who use wheelchairs rallied outside the John A. Wilson Building this morning to urge the City Council to support a proposal that would require a greater share of D.C. taxicabs to be wheelchair-accessible and new taxis to be fueled by clean burning compressed natural gas (CNG).
The rally was held as the D.C. Council's Committee on Environment, Public Works and Transportation held a hearing on two taxicab bills. A coalition of individual taxicab drivers/owners have joined with the disability community to advance a proposed combined taxicab measure that requires any new or different vehicle purchased by a Company or an individual owner for use as a taxicab shall be a CNG vehicle that must be wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant. The proposed combined taxicab measure also requires that 55% of a Company's taxicabs must be CNG vehicles and wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant within a four-year period.
"These wheelchair-accessible, compressed-gas vehicles will provide desperately needed transportation for thousands of District residents and cleaner air for our city," said Chairman Brown. "It is both the right and the smart thing to do for our community."
Fewer than 1% of today's D.C. taxi fleet can accommodate passengers in wheelchairs. As a result, people in wheelchairs must rely on Metro, MetroAccess, or medical transportation – making it harder to plan and take trips – or they must simply forgo trips.
President Obama spoke about the benefits of natural gas in his recent State of the Union address and a number of major cities – including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia -- have recently taken steps toward making their taxi fleets more accessible to wheelchairs. Disability advocates said Washington should follow suit.
"Taxis are a basic part of life in Washington and must be accessible to everyone," said Mark Perriello, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. "Wheelchair accessible taxis are not only good for people with disabilities, but for the businesses that thrive when everyone can get out and participate in all that Washington has to offer."
"Fourteen million Americans with disabilities face daily difficulty in moving from place to place," said Kelly Buckland, Executive Director of the National Council on Independent Living. "This is a national issue and the nation's capital has a responsibility to lead our country by providing people who use wheelchairs the same transportation options enjoyed by people who don't."
Added Jim Weisman, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the United Spinal Association: "The District of Columbia is an international tourist destination. Senior citizens and people with disabilities needing accessible vehicles visit the city every day and are unable to use the District's taxicabs. The District is to be congratulated for considering legislation that would require taxis to serve all who reside in, or travel to, Washington, D.C.; not just people who can walk."
Madonna Long, consumer advocate for Pride Mobility Products, Inc. expressed the hope that the city council would act: "Today, the lives of people who have disabilities have changed," Ms. Long said. "We work, we attend schools and we raise families. We should be able to hail a cab like anybody else, no special phone number to call, just get in a cab and off we go. The CNG MV-1, with green compressed natural gas is smart business choice. Taxi drivers will save money on fuel and the people in D.C. will not have to pay the $1 gasoline fuel surcharge as they ride in a vehicle that fits everyone. This is a win-win situation and the District of Columbia should and can act as a model for the nation to lead on this issue."
Currently priced up to $1.50 per gallon lower than diesel or gasoline (depending upon local markets), the use of natural gas fuel reduces costs significantly for vehicle and fleet owners, reduces greenhouse gas emissions up to 30% in light-duty vehicles and 23% in medium to heavy-duty vehicles. Additionally, natural gas is a secure North American energy source with 98% of the natural gas consumed produced in the U.S. and Canada.
The union-made MV-1 was designed in close cooperation with the disabled community and numerous taxi fleet owners, said Fred Drasner, Chairman of the Vehicle Production Group, the company that manufactures the vehicle. "The MV-1 provides dignity for the wheelchair passenger who can enter gracefully through a large door opening with plenty of headroom. And with its large cabin, it is an exceptional vehicle that can carry strollers, bicycles, large pets or just about anything a taxi driver could be called on to transport."
Mark Riley, Vice President of Clean Energy, said the benefits of modernizing the D.C. taxi fleet would be realized throughout the community. "Natural gas is a true win-win for the taxi driver, the citizens, and visitors of the District of Columbia," Mr. Riley said. "The taxi driver keeps a dollar in their pocket for every gallon of fuel used, and District residents and visitors to our Capitol benefit from cleaner air."
For More Information:
American Association of People with Disabilities: http://www.aapd.com/what-we-do/transportation/
National Council on Independent Living: http://www.ncil.org/news/TransportationPosition.html
United Spinal Association: http://www.unitedspinal.org/
Pride Mobility Products: http://www.pridemobility.com/
About the Ford Transit Connect: http://www.ford.com/trucks/transitconnect/
About the Vehicle Production Group MV-1: http://www.vpgautos.com
SOURCE Vehicle Production Group (VPG)