11 Nov 2011

Good Samaritan Doorman

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Filomena Ward celebrates her arrival at a theater…

Henry Gooden’s power chair died the other day on South 16th Street, about a half-mile short of his apartment in the Scottish Rite Towers.
He’d gone to Holt’s for a blend of pipe and cigarette tobacco that lets him roll his own smokes and save money on Newports.
When his chair ran out of juice, Gooden was outside the 257 Apartments. He figured he was stuck.
Of the nation’s 10 biggest cities, only Philadelphia has no taxicab that can give a lift to a person who uses a power chair.
That’s what Gooden thought, and why not? It’s been that way forever.

At least he had the good fortune to get into trouble outside the building of David Goldstein. The doorman (at 257 Apartments) started making phone calls for Gooden, who has been in a chair for the last 20 of his 64 years, since he lost his right leg because of a car accident.

Relatives couldn’t help Gooden. Neither could police. The first cab company that responded had no way to lift the 200-pound power chair into the trunk. Then a passing cabbie told the men of a new player in town, a powder-blue and maroon Freedom Cab van, specially equipped for wheelchairs

A few minutes later, Billy Goodman pulled up to the curb. In the front passenger seat rode Everett Abitbol, co-owner of the cab company. They opened the back gate, fastened two hooks to the front of Gooden’s chair, hit a switch, and drew him into the back of a new Toyota Sienna.

“I’m glad they came,” Gooden says of his Nov. 8 ordeal. “I’m glad they have the service.” How did the city finally do the right thing for people who use power chairs and can’t wait for Paratransit?

Parking Authority officials say they have long been trying to bring such vans to the city. But approval took time, said Jim Nye, who heads taxi enforcement, because the new cabs wanted to use dispatch systems different from the one that enjoys an exclusive contract here.

That conflict is being worked out, Nye said.

I can’t help but think a lawsuit moved things along. In July, a federal suit by advocates accused the Parking Authority of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by not providing cabs for those in wheelchairs.

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