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.
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.
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.
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.
it was worth 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.
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.