Fewer Than Half of Ottawa’s 191 Potential Accessible Cabs Actually Operating

Guy Quenneville, CBC News
Posted: Jun 12, 2023

Ottawa city councillors are being asked this week to endorse new financial incentives for taxi drivers to jumpstart the low stock of accessible taxis serving the city.

According to a new city report, of the 191 fully wheelchair-accessible vehicles that could be operating, only about 80 are. Of those 80, approximately 20 fall under the city’s Para Transpo system, which takes pre-booked rides only.

That makes the current levels “not sufficient,” said Jerry Fiori, the past president of the Ottawa Disabilities Coalition.

“The taxis run right now serving the most profitable routes and so a lot of times they’re just not available for people that have disabilities.”

Accessible taxi drivers pushed to ‘boiling point’

The union representing Ottawa taxi drivers, meanwhile, says the low availability of accessible taxis is due in part to the higher cost of operating them. Ride-hailing companies aren’t under the same obligation to service people with disabilities.

“To bring an accessible taxi on the road, you’re talking $80,000,” said Amrik Singh, the president of Unifor Local 1688.

The city says it could cost even more: up to $100,000 for a new vehicle.

So what’s the city proposing?

To help level the playing field and boost the number of accessible taxis in operation, the city is contemplating a number of new incentives for taxi drivers over the next three years.

One would see each accessible taxi licensee or vehicle owner get a total of $15,000 over that time to help pay for retrofits.

Another $2,000 per year might be paid if drivers meet certain criteria, including being available 50 hours a week and “accepting all on-demand wheelchair accessible trip requests,” according to the city report.

Fiori said he supports the incentives, though one gives him pause: the city’s desire to allow vehicle models up to 12 years old to operate as wheelchair-accessible cabs.

Currently, they can’t be more than 10 years old.

“If that particular one goes ahead, they have to really have more inspection of these taxis and more regulation to make sure they’re properly fixed and maintained,” Fiori said.

Fiori said he ordered a Para Transpo ride two weeks ago and an accessible taxi arrived instead.

“I had a sort of really bumpy ride. The suspension on the back was shot quite a bit. I don’t know exactly how old the taxi was, but I was quite uncomfortable.”

Taxi pool overall dwindling

Singh said he supports the incentives too, but fears they won’t go far enough.

He wants the city to do more to support the taxi industry overall, including by shifting the $5 pick-up fee at the Ottawa airport to customers instead of drivers.

Singh said his union local numbered about 1,400 members before the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s down to 800 members now.

“The total business is a lot less than what it was before the Ubers of the world showed up in Ottawa,” Singh said.

The city’s emergency preparedness and protective services committee is being asked to signal their approval of the incentives at their next meeting this Thursday.

All of council will be asked to vote on the initiatives at a later date.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville is a reporter at CBC Ottawa. He can be reached at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca.

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/ottawa-taxi-cabbie-accessibility-incentive-1.6872873