By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh
Jul 26, 2012 – 10:29 AM
MIKE BARRETTTaxi troublesAurora’s Tyler Barker says taxi companies are overcharging clients in wheelchairs.123Would you pay
$30 or more for a taxi ride of about three kilometres?
Tyler Barker did, but he had no choice. The 26-year-old Aurora resident has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
Due to his condition, taxi cabs are overcharging him, said Mr. Barker, who is on the town’s accessibility advisory committee.
“I’ve been told it’s an industry standard,” he said.
Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, it’s illegal for a conventional transportation service provider
to charge a higher fare to a person with a disability.
However, service providers argue accessible vehicles aren’t conventional.
“That’s not a taxi. It’s not the same service,” Royal Taxi general manager Spiros Bastas said.
Accessible transportation is a market captured locally by York Region Transit’s Mobility Plus, he said.
“There’s absolutely no demand,” he added.
However, parties on all sides of the debate agree there needs to be government funding to subsidize extra costs associated
with transporting people with special needs.
“It’s a societal issue,” Mr. Bastas said.
It’s also a personal matter that has affected people such as Mr. Barker in more ways than one.
“It’s held me back, regarding school. It’s a major hurdle for me,” he said.
While Mr. Barker has access to a van, he has to rely on Mobility Plus buses and private taxis to get around most of the time.
“My mom is not my chauffeur,” he said. “Friends will help, but I want my own independence.”
About 18 months ago, Mr. Barker quit school due to various reasons, including the high cost to get to Seneca College’s Newham
Campus, near Finch Avenue and Hwy. 404.
He used Dignity Transportation Inc., which charged him $75 each way, he said.
Attending classes three times a week, Mr. Barker said he took out a special loan to cover his transportation costs of $450 a
Since leaving school, Mr. Barker has switched his focus to accessibility advocacy.
But even when he met with Mobility Plus representatives last year at Aurora town hall — a three-kilometre ride from his house
— he was billed $35 by Dignity.
He said Mobility Plus reimbursed him under a one-time special circumstance, after they contracted a taxi for him that he
couldn’t get into due to the size of his powered wheelchair.
York Region Media Group obtained quotes from Royal Taxi, which subcontracts accessible vehicles to AQuality Mobility Inc.
Its rate for an accessible cab starts at $32.50 for up to 11 kilometres, whereas the meter starts at $4 for a regular cab.
From Mr. Barker’s home to Aurora town hall by regular cab, Royal quoted $13 or $14.
York Region Media Group also called Dignity for a quote and was told the minimum rate starts at $30 one way, for any distance
up to six kilometres.
You can’t compare apples and oranges, said Lloyd Pollock, president of Dignity, which is headquartered in Vaughan.
“It’s a livery service. It’s essentially a limousine service,” he said. “Our rates are exceptional.”
The government subsidized the purchase of accessible vehicles in the 1990s, but discontinued the program due to high costs,
Mr. Pollock said.
“The truth is, it’s all about money,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do.”
Richmond Hill Deputy Mayor Vito Spatafora, who is chairperson of the region’s accessibility advisory committee, believes the
issue at hand can only be improved with a consistent and reliable source of funding.
“(Transportation providers) are businesses; they are not charitable companies,” he said. “And there’s only so much property
taxes and development charges can pick up.”
While Mr. Spatafora said the region has made numerous improvements to Mobility Plus to increase accessibility, he questioned
the increasing size and weight of wheelchairs.
“Some of them are like suped-up go-karts,” he said. “If they want service beyond what the region can provide, they are going
to have to absorb the costs. They seem to be asking for private limousine service.”
Regional council recently approved contracts — effective this Sunday — with Royal Taxi York Region Inc., Care Accessibility
Transportation and Mobility Transportation Specialists Inc. for the provision of Mobility Plus accessible mini-van and sedan
Totaling more than $35 million over five years, the contracts include 39 sedans and 24 accessible mini-vans.
However, there are no rear-loaders, which Mr. Barker said he needs to fit in the vans.
“I don’t want a limo. I just want a taxi like a regular person,” he said.
Beverley Hall agreed.
The former Markham resident is paralysed from the waist down from a car accident in 2002.
“We pay more. It’s not fair,” she said. “You feel victimized all over again.”
While she takes public transit whenever possible, Mobility Plus wasn’t always able to pick her up, she said.
“They have extreme limitations. They can be late, but you can’t,” Ms Hall said of the 40-minute grace period allowing the bus
to either show up 20 minutes before the ordered time or 20 minutes after. However, the bus will only wait five minutes for a
passenger to show up.
You must book your ride with Mobility Plus before noon the day prior.
“So if an emergency comes up in the afternoon, you have to call a taxi,” Ms Hall said. “You can’t be sick or you are supposed
to predict when you are going to be sick.”
Mobility Plus offers a Scrip Ride program for clients with last-minute or unplanned trips, but Mr. Barker and Ms Hall said
these contracted vehicles are only suited for people with dialysis appointments who can walk with a cane or get out of a
wheelchair and into a seat.
Markham resident Andy Ainsworth, who uses a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis, went further, criticizing Mobility Plus’
door-to-door service as unreliable.
“They have stringent rules about getting a ride,” he said. “If I were to bet on them, I wouldn’t. I’ve had zero success with
Nora Ryan, who uses a wheelchair because of severe arthritis in both legs, agreed there are problems with Mobility Plus, but
said she has had good experiences with the service.
“You have to plan it well,” she said. “I’m a reader, so it works well for me.”
Ms Ryan’s condition also qualifies her for reimbursement for some trips.
She must see a specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital once every two weeks. GTA Transportation charges her $60 one way from her
apartment in Markham, but the costs qualify for full reimbursement under the Ontario Disability Support Program.
Even so, Ms Ryan is also calling for the government to provide more financial assistance to people with low income and/or
Until then, Mobility Plus, which records 1,300 trips with 12 bus routes daily, is at your service when you need it, manager
Sharon Doyle said.
Ms Doyle said the shared-ride public service has been described by caregivers and families as a “Godsend”, as it allows
registered users to go anywhere in York Region and selected locations in Toronto, including Seneca.
To go beyond the current service level would require extra funding in the future, Mr. Spatafora said.
“We only have so many buses available and we have to cover the entire region from Lake Simcoe to Steeles Avenue,” he said.
“It’s going to be a budget requirement.”