A safety crackdown on wheelchair taxis in Winnipeg has meant about a dozen drivers have lost their licences to operate accessible taxis in the past two months.
The enforcement action by Manitoba's Taxicab Board followed a series of stories in March by the CBC News I-Team showing that taxi van drivers were sometimes not properly strapping down wheelchairs or securing passengers with shoulder straps.
“Since the CBC story in March, we stepped up enforcement. I personally didn’t realize how bad it was,” board secretary Joan Wilson said in an interview.
“Disabled people tend not to complain. Since that has aired, more people have come forward," she added.
“Our board felt that we needed to get out and actually see how these drivers were strapping in the wheelchairs."
The Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities says it is pleased the Taxicab Board is taking action.
"The safety of passengers in accessible taxis has been an issue for quite a long time, so we're very happy to hear that the taxi board is doing stricter enforcement and increasing their training policy as well," said Jesse Turner, who chairs the league's transportation committee.
'This is new for us'
Wilson said the type of enforcement action that was taken by board inspectors was a new venture.
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“We usually do not stop a vehicle with the passenger in it. But the board told us that in order to find out whether or not they’re strapped in properly, we’d have to stop the vehicles. So this is new for us,” she explained.
Wilson said the drivers affected are still able to drive regular taxis, just not wheelchair vans.
She added that of the dozen or so drivers who lost their accessible taxi licences, three or four have since applied to the board to regain those licences.
Those drivers appeared before a hearing but their applications were denied, Wilson said.
Turner said the enforcement action raises another question.
“If approximately a dozen licences have been revoked, it makes me wonder if there are now fewer accessible taxi vans on the roads, which would be significant because there is a lack of accessible taxis available to users right now,” said Turner.
Training requirements being expanded
In addition to the crackdown, Wilson said the Taxicab Board is also going to step up the training requirements for wheelchair taxi vans.
Currently, the board requires each driver to submit a letter annually signed by the taxi company stating they have had a two-hour training session on how to secure wheelchairs properly and meet the standards for accessible taxis.
Under a new plan beginning in December, Wilson said the mandatory training for wheelchair van drivers will be expanded to eight hours and it will be delivered by an independent training company rather than the taxi companies themselves.
“There has to be a balance between enforcement and raising awareness,” said Turner. “So it's really great to hear the taxi board is increasing their training for drivers."
“I'm hoping this training will go beyond mechanics of safety and will include a significant portion on disability awareness, so there will be greater respect on the part of drivers on how they accommodate and provide services for wheelchair users,” Turner added.
Wilson said all wheelchair van drivers must take the course by the end of February.