With new regulations creating private wealth in a billion-dollar industry, it’s not asking too much to use some of it for the public good.
Jul 11 2013
As Toronto struggles to reform its taxi rules — specifically requiring that all new taxi licences and transfer of old licences be attached to an accessible vehicle — others are watching.
That’s good. This is a goal worth achieving — not just to move athletes around during the 2015 Pan Am Games, but to move citizens with mobility challenges during the Games and, more importantly, afterwards.
With only 85 of 4,849 taxis currently accessible, citizens with disabilities have to plan far in advance to engage in life’s simple pleasures.
“They have to plan two days ahead to be ‘spontaneous,’” says Councillor Adam Vaughan, adroitly summing up the conundrum. “People with disabilities fall in love, too. They want to go on a date on short notice, or take their nephew to the Blue Jays game on the spur of the moment.” Vaughan chairs the city’s Advisory Committee on Disability Issues.
Also watching is neighbouring Mississauga, which is conducting its own review with an eye on how Toronto’s changes are being accepted — or not.
Peter Pellier, 40 years in the Mississauga taxi industry, writes: “In principle, 100 per cent accessibility is unassailable. A person in a wheelchair attempting to flag down a cab should be able to access the first one available, as opposed to waiting who knows how long for an empty accessible taxi.”
Then, there is the provincial government, which passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The Act requires that by 2025 a person hailing a cab from a wheelchair should be guaranteed one that is accessible — and not have to wait for one to arrive in 20 or 30 minutes.
This appears lost on the majority in an industry consumed with how the daily haul of cash is distributed. There seems to be enough money to go around. The Toronto report estimates that with 10,367 licensed cab drivers making an average 65,000 trips per day at $25 per fare, the gross is about $1.5 million a day.
Yet, at one public meeting this week, a Toronto cabbie voiced this outrageous view: If we all had accessible vehicles, he said, the world would think we are a sick city.
No. You, sir, are ill. Exposure to people with mobility issues — a colleague today, a relative tomorrow, maybe an aging parent next week — increases our sensitivity to the mountainous challenges we’ve erected. With a little accommodation, the barriers subside.
Most of the few accessible cabs in use now are being used on contract with Wheel-Trans to ferry subsidized patrons. The reforms recommend doubling the number by 2015. With a new policy approving only accessible taxis in future, the fleet will gradually approach 100 per cent barrier-free.
The arguments opposing this melt away upon examination. If only 15 per cent of cab requests ask for an accessible taxi now, expect the percentage to jump once users know the service exists on demand.
No, the Wheel-Trans passenger won’t give up a $2 subsidized ride for a $25 cab journey, but an increase in accessible cabs is bound to financially relieve Wheel-Trans of providing service in a big bus when a car would do.
Yes, the accessible vehicles are expensive, but not nearly what the detractors say. The CEO of MV-1 Canada, a vehicle already in production and service, told cabbies last week he would take their orders immediately at $45,000, not the $90,000 bandied about. Similarly, insurance rates will be higher, but likely not the $16,000 rumoured.
Finally, this breathtaking concern: cabs will look like minivans to accommodate the wheelchairs and Bay Street bankers won’t hop into a van and ruin their image.
Well, let them walk. At least they can.
Besides, the MV-1 is more like an SUV than a minivan. “When you get in my vehicle, you won’t want to get into another one. It doesn’t have the stigma of an accessible minivan,” says Nick Grande.
The proposed reforms make concessions to a group of cabbies who complained long and bitterly about the second-class nature of the Ambassador Cabs. They can now sell their cab licence and recoup a sizeable amount for retirement. They can lease their car to another driver in case of sickness, or just if they want to. But they — and all other licencees — must move to accessible cabs.
The new rules create private wealth in a billion-dollar industry. It’s not asking too much to use it to create public good.
“I would hope that the simplicity of this and the obvious benefit is so compelling that it wouldn’t need lobbying,” Vaughan says.
Royson James usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: rjames@th