Cabs that can take wheelchairs are wearing out; drivers hope for provincial subsidy
By SHERRI BORDEN COLLEY Staff Reporter
Wed. Apr 21 – 4:53 AM
Two cab drivers who provide the only wheelchair accessible taxi service in the Halifax Regional Municipality are threatening to take their specialized minivans off the road unless they get a subsidy from the province.
The two vans have been in service for the last five years and have become too expensive to operate and purchasing a new one would be too costly without government assistance, driver Mark Weston said Monday.
“I’ve sunk over $10,000 in my van just in repairs over the last year and I just can’t afford to do that,” Weston said. “And my van has over 390,000 kilometres on it.”
Insurance for his cab costs $4,000 a year and replacing the vehicle would be between $45,000 and $65,000 depending on the model and the cost to make it wheelchair accessible.
He said fellow driver Ben Bella faces a similar dilemma.
“What we need is a real subsidy, something that will put us on an even playing field with a regular taxi service because we don’t charge extra to provide
this service but yet we go out of our way to provide it,” Weston said.
“Basically, if we can’t get some kind of subsidy or help, this service is going to stop because I can’t pay $45,000 or $65,000 or whatever it’s going to
cost to replace this van and run it as a taxi.”
In 2005, Weston and Bella were two of four Casino Taxi drivers who received $10,000 each from the province to convert their cabs into wheelchair accessible vehicles. The other two drivers no longer offer the service.
Both recently applied for a subsidy under the Accessible Transportation Assistance Program, a provincial government program that provides funding that helps community organizations, public transit and the private sector provide wheelchair accessible services across the province. It covers up to half the capital costs — up to $50,000 — of new vehicles or $10,000 for used vehicles.
Deborah Bayer, spokeswoman for Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, said a committee will decide in June which applicants will receive the funding.
But Weston said another government representative told him a decision wouldn’t be made until September, which would be too late because he doubts his cab would pass safety inspection.
The cab drivers haven’t applied to the Halifax Regional Municipality for assistance because it does not fund taxis that provide accessible service, but
metro does offer accessible transportation through Metro Transit’s Access-A-Bus service. This service needs to be booked in advance, though same day bookings can sometimes be accommodated.
Randy Reede of the Canadian Paraplegic Association’s Nova Scotia chapter said losing the two taxis would be a blow.
“If you’ve got to go grocery shopping or do your banking, sometimes you have to wait up to a week if you’re an Access-A-Bus user,” he said. But “with a
taxi service, you can do that that day.”
Reede said people shouldn’t have to wait a week to get service.
The lack of wheelchair accessible cabs affects tourists as well, he said, pointing to the upcoming Canada Games as an example.
“There will be people here with disabilities and they’ll need the taxi service.”
Reede receives many inquiries from visitors who wish to rent wheelchair accessible vans but there’s no such service here.
“Transportation is about inclusion in a community . . . so if you don’t have that, then it’s not right that somebody with a disability be denied that,”
In addition to Access-a-Bus, Metro Transit is working to make more routes more wheelchair accessible. It has introduced accessible low-floor buses for people with disabilities who can travel to a bus stop independently, spokeswoman Lori Patterson said.
“Every bus we purchase is now a low-floor bus,” Patterson said, adding that 70 per cent of Metro Transit’s fleet are low-floor buses.
Metro Transit is currently doing an Access-A-Bus review.
The first sessions were held in February but there are still two information meetings left where users will be asked to share their ideas on how to improve the service over the next five to 10 years. The meetings will be held at the Capt. William Spry Community Centre, 10 Kidston Rd., Halifax (Spryfield) on May 5 and at the Dartmouth High School cafeteria, 95 Victoria Rd., Dartmouth on May 6. Both meetings run from 6-8 p.m.
A final report will go to Halifax Regional Council at a later date.
Reproduced from http://thechronicleherald.ca/Metro/1178455.html