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One suit, a long walk, and some serious chutzpah: How a TLPA convention 30 years ago launched a lifelong career in transportation

In 1985, Robbie Werth arrived in Miami, ready to take on his first experience at a Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association annual convention. But even before he could set down his luggage, his plans hit a snag.

His more economical one-story motel was 36 blocks away from the iconic Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach, where the convention took place. That distance meant Werth would be forced to take a bus to the convention every day because, well, he couldn’t afford the cab ride.

But that didn’t stop him.

“I pressed my shirt, put on my only suit, got on the bus, and I walked in like I owned the place,” Werth recalls with a laugh.

Attending his first convention didn’t come without risk. The cab company he worked for at the time didn’t see the value in attending the convention. Werth didn’t agree. He decided to take the chance and paid for the trip himself.

And it was worth it.

It was there that Werth, now a former president of the TLPA, would set the wheels in motion for the rest of his career in the industry. Just prior to the convention, he met a gentleman from Alexandria, Virginia, by the name of John Duty Collins, who for his entire life, had been confined to a motorized wheelchair. Even though he lived in Alexandria, a progressive city, there were no public transportation options for him. In that era, before the Americans with Disabilities Act, no one was providing full-fledged independent living disability services.

So Werth and Collins had an idea. What if a company provided door-to-door or curb-to-curb services, taking people with disabilities wherever they needed to go? And what if it was a part of the overall transportation fabric of a city? Werth believed his cab company could provide that service.

Roy Kiely of Cleveland Yellow Cab took Werth to a vendor booth displaying the type of vehicle he would need for that type of transportation. At the time, those vehicles ran between $20,000 and $25,000.

“I didn’t have any money, and I hit the desk and said, ‘I’ll take four,’” Werth says.

From there, Werth returned to the DC area, found a lender, and kick-started the first public accessible transportation service in Northern Virginia, which later expanded further into the entire region. Thirty years later, Werth has established himself as a leader in accessible transportation.

And the TLPA conventions, a place where he kick-started his career, are mandatory for anyone with dreams like his, he says.

“It’s a must for people who are in the industry who want to have information about what’s going on right now, and also do some forecasting about what’s going to happen in the future,” Werth said. “You can’t be reactionary anymore. You have to stay ahead of what’s going on.”

Werth will receive a pin commemorating his 30th convention at this year’s conference in Phoenix.

But this time, he’s actually staying in the convention hotel.

Posted 10/7/2016 5:55:10 PM