Local cab fleet lacks vehicles for disabled

Vancouver’s advisory committee on disabilities has recommended that all new taxis in the city be wheelchair-accessible. The committee made the proposal last November after noting long wait times for such vehicles.

Chief licence inspector Paul Teich ­oeb told the Georgia Straight that his office is evaluating the matter and will make a report to council by the end of February at the earliest. He added that although the city needs more wheelchair- accessible cabs, “We have to balance a number of needs, and that’s part of our evaluation process.”

Vancouver resident Paul Tubbe has chaired the committee for six years and said he knows the situation firsthand. “I’ve been using a wheelchair for the last 25 years,” he told the Straight. “Wait times are so bad in the city that I use Bonny’s Taxi in Burnaby instead.”

The problem isn’t just numbers, Tubbe said, noting that he has seen wheelchair-accessible cabs waiting for tourists outside hotels when they should have been responding to calls from disabled or elderly people.

“[It is] quite unacceptable being treated like a second-class citizen,” he said.

The city’s four taxi companies—Yellow Cab Ltd., Vancouver Taxi Ltd., Black Top & Checker Cabs Ltd., and MacLures Cabs—have a combined fleet of 477 vehicles. According to Pamela Hayes, a city vehicle-for- hire inspector, 59 of these are wheelchair-accessible.

Margaret Birrell, executive director of the B.C. Coalition of People With Disabilities, told the Straight that the city needs more specially equipped vehicles. “There are just not enough,” she said.

No one among those reached by the Straight could give an estimate on how many wheelchair-accessible cabs are actually needed in the city.

Charles Castonguay, general manager of Yellow Cab, told the Straight that the matter is up to the Passenger Transportation Board to determine. The board regulates passenger-directed vehicles and intercity buses in the province. Castonguay said that he was not aware of the advisory committee’s recommendation that all new taxis be wheelchair-accessible.

A January 31, 2005, city staff report noted that an unidentified economist hired by taxi companies estimated that there are about 88,000 people in Vancouver who have mobility problems and may require wheelchair- accessible cabs. The same report stated that there are approximately 71,800 people aged 65 and over in the city.

A November 8 news release issued by Mayor Sam Sullivan’s office noted that the city’s 477 taxis work out to about one taxi for every 1,258 people. It stated that Toronto has 4,961 cabs serving a population of about 2.7 million, or a ratio of about one taxi for every 540 people. “We have heard from visitors, residents, the business community, and taxi operators that we simply do not have enough taxis to serve the needs of our growing city,” Sullivan said in the release.

Minutes of a March 3, 2005, council meeting showed that Sullivan, then a councillor, voted against the issuance of 29 new licences for wheelchair-accessible taxis. At the same meeting, Sullivan—who is a quadriplegic and requires the use of a wheelchair—also introduced a motion for an increase in licence fees for the city’s then 30 existing specially equipped cabs. His motion was defeated.