Updated: September 5, 2019
The head of the industry association calls it a “cesspool of problems.”
But the owner of a taxi company says it’s long overdue, and an accessibility advocate says it’s a start.
A new proposal from city hall to slap a five-cent fee on every taxi ride to pay for accessible cab subsidies an idea one driver says is sure to “open big, big drama” is earning mixed reviews.
“I’m all in for any kind of improvement to accessible transportation,” said Jacqueline Madden, head of city hall’s accessibility advisory committee, though she stressed people who use paratransit or accessible cabs need to be the focus of any changes.
The $5 subsidy part of a proposal in a city hall report going to politicians next week, which suggests flowing that money directly to drivers, not cab companies might not create any savings for riders, Madden said, suggesting the incentive program would best support “rich people with disabilities.”
And the five cent fee that may be added to all taxi rides to fund those subsidies didn’t go over well with the president of the London Taxi Association, who said it would turn brokers into tax collectors and pull more money out of drivers’ pockets.
“You’re wading into a very deep cesspool of problems,” Jason Kukurudziak said.
He agrees with city staff about the overarching problem: converting vehicles into accessible taxis is expensive, a venture that easily costs tens of thousands of dollars.
The goal of the city hall program is to provide an incentive that could encourage more accessible cabs on the road.
But Kukurudziak and other taxi representatives train their anger on the sky-high cost of running paratransit a bill the city helps foot while taxis are left to “pick up the slack.” The price for Voyageur to provide that service, a $6 million contract that’s up for renewal, has risen 13.6 per cent since the last five-year contract. And it’s still fraught with problems for users, who have to call three days in advance to book a trip.
“Maybe some of that money we’re spending on the existing service should (go) to help the cab driver operating these vans. It would take a great strain off them. Then, you’re more on par with running a standard taxi,” Kukurudziak said.
The problem, according to city staff, is that provincial rules restrict city hall from offering direct financial support to the industry, such as grants to get into the accessible taxi business.
“In the City of Calgary, there are incentive programs there where cab companies, vehicle-for-hire companies, can come into the city and obtain $5,000 a year to upgrade or maintain their vehicle. Under Ontario legislation, that’s just not an option,” said city hall official Nicole Musicco.
“We’re unable to write a cheque, or give a loan, for upgrades or conversions to accessible vehicles.”
That’s why the proposal suggests directing a subsidy straight to accessible taxi drivers.
Fateh Bander, who drives with Green Taxi a company that has many accessible taxis on the road says the proposed city hall incentive program is too little, too late.
He’s in favour of a subsidy, and in fact, says Green Taxi drivers have been asking for help for years. Costs to run accessible cabs are rising including insurance and his company nearly had to take them off the road.
Instead, starting Sept. 1, Green Taxi added a flat $10 fee to every accessible cab ride, he said, arguing accessible cabs have been subsidizing customers.
“We discussed this for almost two years. Too many meetings with managers, with city councillors, but nothing happens. Nothing,” he said.
“We’re not going to wait for the city. We’re going to do our own process (by adding a $10 fee). Why would we serve the rest of the city for nothing?”
City hall began asking for public feedback on accessible taxis just last week, consultation that’s still underway. The proposal for a five-cent fee and five-dollar subsidy is an early one, city staff say, and it still has to be vetted by the city’s legal department.
The report headed to politicians next week it goes to the community and protective services committee on Tuesday recommends scheduling a public meeting so Londoners can weigh in on the proposal.