After years of lobbying for more cabs that can handle wheelchairs, disabled people and their advocates Thursday got their wish: The Philadelphia Parking Authority will issue 45 taxi medallions for wheelchair-accessible vehicles by the end of the year.
What's more, the number of wheelchair-accessible cabs - vans, actually - will increase by 15 every year until 150 such vehicles are rolling in the city.
Currently, Philadelphia has only eight disabled-accessible cabs out of a total of 1,800 registered taxis.
Being able to call a taxi to go anywhere will be a big difference for those who use wheelchairs, who currently have to rely on public transportation to get to most places, said Nancy Salandra, vice president of the disabilities advocacy group Liberty Resources.
"We've spent at least 15 years fighting the issue," Salandra said. "It's ridiculous it took this long.
"It will be unbelievably wonderful when it happens."
Liberty Resources is not done. The advocacy group wants 300 wheelchair-accessible vans. It costs about $10,000 to add a lift to make a van wheelchair-accessible.
Still, 150 is "fantastic news," she said.
By 2021, Philadelphia will have reached similar levels of taxi service for the disabled to Chicago (170 vans) and New York City (200), PPA said.
The new regulations were part of an agreement reached after a three-year court battle between the authority and Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania. The regulations were approved by the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission on Thursday, still have to undergo a review by the Attorney General's Office.
PPA attorney Dennis Weldon called the move a win-win.
"I don't think Philadelphia has ever had 45 new taxicabs at once," he said.
Shawn Tucker, an independent-living specialist at Liberty Resources who is a wheelchair user, said the increase was long overdue.
Tucker was part of a small group of activists who attended Thursday's regulatory commission hearing in Harrisburg. Back in Philadelphia, Tucker said Thursday's decision was more than just about money and medallions: It was a chance to offer people with disabilities something to which they are entitled - access.
The wheelchair-accessible cabs can be used by people who are not disabled. The medallions, which regularly cost about $500,000 each, will be sold in sealed-bid auctions.
David Alperstein, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Taxi Association, said the new medallions for handicap-accessible vehicles would likely retain their value and perhaps go for even more.
"It's more like a piece of property that you rent out," Alperstein said. "It's not only a license but a property right that can be transferred."
The association would like to see even more medallions issued.
"We saw there's a need for it," Alperstein said.