Steph Crosier, The Sault Star
Thursday, October 30, 2014
The City of Sault Ste. Marie’s Accessibility Advisory Committee made a formal proposal to the Sault Police Board Thursday that would require all taxi cab companies in city to have at least one accessible vehicle for the mobility disabled. Currently there are none.
People with mobility disabilities are trapped like prisoners in Sault Ste. Marie, says chair of police board.
“I don’t think there is a doubt that there is definitely a lack of service with respect to accessible cabs,” Ian MacKenzie told The Sault Star after the police board meeting Thursday. “There’s nobody to call to take them anywhere particularly in the evenings, and we have to do something about it.”
At the meeting Nancie Scott, accessibility coordinator for the City of Sault Ste. Marie, and Matthew Caputo, solicitor/prosecutor for the city, made a presentation to the board with recommendations from the Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) based on the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
“Taxicab companies with 1-35 vehicles shall have one fully accessible vehicle as identified in the Highway Traffic Act on the road 24/7,” the recommendations state.
The AAC also recommends that companies with more than 35 vehicles should have two accessible vehicles on the road at all times. The presentation compared the Sault with other northern communities.
It said North Bay, with a population of 64, 043, has 1 on-demand accessible vehicle, Sudbury, population of 157, 860 has 7 accessible cabs, Timmins, population of 43, 165, has 2 accessible taxis, and Thunder Bay, with a population of 109, 140, has 21 accessible taxis.
On a larger scale, Caputo spoke to the City of Toronto’s pledge to have every taxi in the city be accessible to individuals with disabilities by 2024, and 290 accessible cabs by 2015. In London, England, the Transport for London website states all 22,000 black taxis are equipped to transport wheelchair users.
If the recommendations are put into place, Sault Ste. Marie will have 3 accessible taxi cabs on the road at all times.
The presentation left time for questions and comments at the end. MacKenzie allowed for almost 20 minutes of discussion from taxicab owners, people with mobility impairments, family members, and support workers.
Taxicab company owners were concerned about the initial costs of purchasing an accessible vehicle to offer. Butch Wilson has owned Union Cabs and Limousines for over 10 years. He brought the estimated pricing for a 2013 accessible vehicle that would cost over $45,000.
“I’d have to close my doors, they’re going to close them anyways if I don’t produce it, and I’m the biggest company in town,” Wilson said. “I’d have no chose, where am I going to get the money from?”
Wilson and other cab company owners also brought up the cost of new vehicles during the meeting.
“That is the cost of living in an inclusive society,” Caputo said in reply, adding the AAC wouldn’t be apposed to a grace period to allow companies time to save up for, and ultimately purchase the vehicles.
There are two accessible transport businesses in the Sault; Parabus Transit and Home and Health. Each charge $30 one-way within city limits, but include helping the clients from their homes into the bus, and out of the bus, and into their destination. Scott said people with mobility disabilities must schedule for a trip two-weeks in advance, and within regular working hours.
“We are probably going to lose up to 50% of our clientele because, who is going to pay $30- one way when it could be regular taxi fare,” Lise Moncion, owner of Home and Health Mobility, said.
The company has been in business for eight months with one bus running. Moncion said they did have plans to expand within the next year, but after this meeting they probably won’t.
“This may ultimately harm our business,” Moncion said. “When you’re dealing with someone with a disability you have to have a little more care and compassion. Whereas the regular taxi drivers don’t have that … time, patience.”
Diane Morrell is a regional services coordinator with Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, a member of the AAC, the current transit chairperson, and has used a wheelchair for 25 years after suffering a spinal-cord injury tobogganing. She estimates 10% of the Sault population has a mobility disability, and the AAC’s recommendation was a very conservative start.
“I think the need is greater then what is being asked for, but there is a part in the legislation to review this to see if it is meeting the need down the road,” Morrell said. “It’s disappointing that there is a fair bit of resistance.
“But I think we all understand that there are some significant costs involved and we’re trying to be sensitive to that, we’re just hoping in the process they will be sensitive to our needs as well.”
Cathy Othmer, who has multiple sclerosis, uses an electric wheelchair. She recalls riding home in her chair from Sault Area Hospital in the middle of the night because there was no one to pick her up.
“I just feel like there’s a lot of emphasis on the operators and not on people who require the service,” Othmer said. “It just seems very one-sided; what about liability, what about this, that. What about our rights? Get on board, because people in this town are desperate for that kind of service.”
Also in attendance from the Transit Committee was Derrick Lavallee who has cerebral palsy, Shannon Gowans who has spina bifida and is the Kiwanis Aktion Club of Lakeshore President.