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March 08, 2006 | Read comments | Post a comment

"New" and "special" in Utah

What's "new"? That's the question a federal appeals court is taking up this week. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will decide the case filed by longtime disablity rights activist Barb Toomer in Salt Lake City against local cab companies for refusing to purchase wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

According to the three cab companies, "new" means just that -- a complelely "new" vehicle. Most of the cab companies purchase used vehicles, and, those, they argue, they aren't required under the Americans with Disabilities Act to be accessible. They aren't "new," you see.

Toomer's group, the Disabled Rights Action Committee, sees it differently.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, they say, requires cab companies to provide lift or ramp devices with every van they acquire for their fleet. "New," says DRAC, means "newly acquired" by the cab company. In other words, "new" to them.

"The issue comes down to the meaning of the word 'new,' " DRAC attorney Rick Armknecht said. "It's amazing that it comes down to that. Whether wheelchair users have access to taxi cabs will depend on the court's interpretation of 'new.' "

In another sense, though, the case is not so much about the word "new" -- angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin stuff -- as it is about the old bugaboo segregation. Oops, I mean "special." In fact, this appeal showcases that issue quite nicely.

To hear the cab companies tell it, they've done their bit by offering a "special" service, after a city ordinance required they do something.

From the Associated Press:

Since the filing of the taxi case, Salt Lake City enacted an ordinance requiring taxis to accommodate people in wheelchairs. That's when the three licensed cab companies arranged for the service to be provided by Gold Cross Services Inc., which takes calls for three specially equipped vans.

"We each donated a meter [a vehicle]," said Bruce Jackson, an owner with his brother of City Cab Co. ... (read story from Utah's Daily Herald newspaper.)

Jackson told reporters he figured that should settle things. "I don't see what the point is," he said, when told Toomer's group had filed an appeal when a lower court agreed with the cab companies that providing a special service was an adequate -- and legal -- solution.

From the Associated Press story, you get a flavor of how cases like these get framed publicly:

Cab drivers in Salt Lake City often refuse to pick up people in wheelchairs, who get referred by dispatchers to a private ambulance company, which has agreed to provide the service for no more than regular cab fare.

But advocates for the disabled want to force taxi companies to outfit vans that usually are part of their fleets with lifts or ramps and provide their own service. . ...

Posted by mjohnson on March 8, 2006 06:48 AM


Shouldn't ambulances be dispatched to handle MEDICAL emergencies? Seems a slippery slope (and unnecessary expense) to start sending them for routine transportation needs. I'd hate to have to call an ambulance to accompany my son to the airport--the only times he's been in an ambulance have been to go straight to the ER. Do they let wheel-free friends of the wheelchair user ride in the ambulance too? Or does the mixed-abilities party need to order two cabs--er, a cab and an ambulance?

Posted by: Penny on March 8, 2006 11:21 AM

Penny writes, "Shouldn't ambulances be dispatched to handle MEDICAL emergencies?"

Well, I suppose that's how we activists see it (smile.) It's funny, though: I was reminded by another commenter on another post about Daily Kos, which I'd posted things to in the past, but abandoned for awhile. So this a.m. I posted this blog entry to my Daily Kos diary. Not too long after I'd posted it came this comment:

What is the real impact of this decision?  If "every" vehicle needs to be handicap equipped, then you're packing around hundreds of pounds of extra hardware for limited use.  I absolutely believe that their outsourcing arrangement fits the identified need.


I keep having to remind myself that Kos is supposed to be a liberal blog site.

Posted by: Mary Johnson on March 8, 2006 12:11 PM

Ha, Kos stopped being a liberal site some time ago. http://boomantribune.com is a much more progressive site, you may get some more thoughtful discourse there, i've been there for awhile now.

[found this post via penny's blog]

Posted by: albert on March 17, 2006 01:30 PM

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