A Winnipeg company that hopes to provide a limousine service to people with disabilities appeared before the Manitoba Taxicab Board on Wednesday in its bid for a licence, but the city's largest taxi companies are against the proposal.
Sunshine Transit Services owner Gary Jakeman told the board that limos for people with disabilities are needed because the service isn’t currently offered in Winnipeg.
Jakeman said right now, people with disabilities have to crawl out of their wheelchairs to get into a limousine.
While accessible taxis are available in the city, Jakeman said his limousines would come equipped with durable ramps and a luxury interior — options that customers with disabilities don't have with current services.
"If somebody wants to go to a grad or wedding, or has to go to a funeral, you have a choice of going in a run-down accessible taxi or a Handi-Transit vehicle, while your family or friends are riding in a limousine," he said.
But not everyone present for the hearing supports the idea of a separate limo service for people with disabilities.
Representatives with Duffy's Taxi and Unicity Taxi told the board there is not enough demand for a specialized limousine service, plus the city is already saturated with cabs and limos.
The Taxicab Board rejected Sunshine Transit Services' application for a similar service two years ago, ruling that the company did not sufficiently illustrate the need for a special limousine service.
Disability rights groups support idea
Jakeman has the support of various disability rights groups in the city, which were present at Wednesday’s hearing.
"Equal access to people with disabilities is very important to me," he said. "I feel that everybody should be treated equal, and this is the case with limousine services.
"There are no accessible limousines in the city, and that's the issue."
Allen Mankewich with the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities said he has had trouble with taxis in the city and the height of a limo makes it difficult for people with disabilities to enter them.
"It's nearly impossible for many people with disabilities to use them," said Mankewich, who has been using a wheelchair his entire life.
"Even if you are able to transfer out of your mobility device such as a wheelchair, there's a risk of falling. Drivers aren't always trained to handle your wheelchair."
Mankewich said having accessible limos on the streets would fix some of the issues he has encountered, as well as provide people with disabilities options similar to those available to able-bodied people.
"Although it may seem like a strange issue for people without disabilities, for people with disabilities it's really important to ensure that we're able to enjoy the world the same way that other people do," he said.