TransLink will do everything it can to make sure its customers with disabilities who use taxis aren’t affected by the Vancouver Taxi Association’s decision to stop subsidies for drivers of accessible taxis, according to its CEO.
HandyDART, a door-to-door shuttle for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, is a service offered by TransLink, and over the last two years about 12 per cent of its rides were provided by taxis. About one per cent of its rides use wheelchair-accessible cabs.
This week, the Vancouver Taxi Association, which represents taxi companies that operate in Vancouver and adjacent municipalities, said it will no longer provide incentives for drivers of accessible vans, such as waiving fees or offering bonuses, because it can no longer afford it now that ride-hailing has entered the Metro Vancouver transportation market.
It said companies will continue to serve customers with disabilities as best they can.
TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said they are in discussions with the association to find out what the impact might be for HandyDART and TaxiSaver customers.
“We want to do everything, working in close collaboration with the taxi association, to ensure there would be no negative impacts on our customers, so those conversations are ongoing,” Desmond said.
Association spokesperson Carolyn Bauer said on Friday that she did not wish to comment on the decision, but the province is working with taxi companies to figure out how to allocate the 30-cent per-trip fee for non-accessible ride-hailing vehicles to “support a sustained and improved level of accessible vehicles on the road.”
HandyDART Riders’ Alliance co-chair Beth McKellar said she was unsure how HandyDART users would be affected if the subsidies are eliminated and fewer accessible taxis were available, but said TransLink relies too heavily on taxis to supplement service. She was livid at the taxi association’s decision.
“This is so wrong — so, so wrong,” McKellar said. “I’ve just been so disappointed with the whole mess. We get hit hard enough with our afflictions every day, our transportation shouldn’t be at risk.”
According to a recent report on modernizing the taxi industry, accessible vehicles cost more money, time and fuel to acquire and operate.
“When a taxi licence share is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, taxi companies have no difficulty absorbing the higher cost of these vehicles and can offer drivers concessions on their dispatch fees to offset the higher costs of operation,” the report said. “However, if licence values fall, or are already low, finding willing taxi companies and drivers becomes problematic.”
B.C. Taxi Association president Mohan Kang said most of his member companies — which operate outside of Vancouver — offer what he called incentives to drivers of accessible taxis and there is no plan for them to stop doing that.
“We are committed to providing the service to people with disabilities on a priority basis as we did before,” Kang said. “That’s our stance, that’s the association’s stance.”
Justina Loh, executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., said she understands the position taxi companies are in, but she found it disappointing that it has come to this.
“We’ve been trying to just push the government or the municipalities a bit to step in and maybe provide some incentives for the taxi industry so that they can continue to have an accessible fleet, just because not having one means that people with disabilities are left out,” Loh said.