Cab drivers awarded for accessible service

April 4, 2010 8:30:47 AM PDT
Since 2001, the city of Chicago has been awarding cab drivers who go beyond their duties transporting people with disabilities.The award is a medallion worth $180,000 and an opportunity to purchase their own cab.

Every year, outstanding taxi drivers are nominated for the excellence award by passengers and/or their families.

The 2009 winners, Clifton Plaxico and Almas Weldingwala, deserved their awards. In 1998, Plaxico lost his job.

" I lost my job of 22 years with one company and never thought in a million years I'd be driving a cab," he said.

To support his family, Plaxico started driving accessible cabs.

"Without the access to this type of vehicle, their lives could be pretty tough," the driver said.

One of his regular passenger was Aaron Barg, who died earlier this year. His father, Steve, says it was a weekly commitment.

"Aaron went to a special school in Glen Ellyn called the Phillip J. Rock Schooling Center for deaf and blind children. So, he was transported from our house in Grayslake up on the northern suburbs," said Steve Barg. "Clifton was the taxi driver for our son, Aaron, for six years back and forth to school."

" We developed a really great relationship with Cliff over the years. It was a very trusting relationship for us because Aaron our son was deaf, blind and wheelchair-bound," said the father. "So, every year we wrote letters to support his application. We did that for, I think, five years and then it paid off this year. So, we couldn't be happier for Cliff."

"And the first thing I did was to purchase my own vehicle. As opposed to purchasing a regular sedan, I chose to purchase a wheelchair vehicle that's accessible," said Plaxico.

Almas Weldingwala, the other winner, has been driving an accessible cab for five years.

" It's great; it's wonderful. You meet lot of interesting people, and you know it's really very nice to drive this," Weldingwala said.

Perry Smith is one of his regular passengers.

"You know he goes beyond just being a cab driver to doing special things for people like, one time, it was a warm day in June. I called for a ride and it came very quickly, and between the time I called him, I got really sick. My breath was short, and he helped me to breathe better," Smith said.

"Then, he took me to the hospital, didn't worry about his pay or none of that," said Smith.

Almas Weldingwala is in the process of buying his own accessible taxi.

Chicago's Dept. of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Norma Reyes says they have 100 accessible cabs on the streets.

"One of the things we've really integrated into the learning and taxi education program is about the customer. The customer, a person with a disability, because the reality is that is a customer that is a missed opportunity for you if you do not provide them service," said Reyes.

Nomination forms for the cab driver excellence awards will be available online in the fall. Nominations must come from people who use the taxis and services.

For more information, visit the City of Chicago Dept. of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Web site.