nb-randy-dickinson

Randy Dickinson says it's unfair to charge passengers in wheelchairs more. (CBC)

The chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission says a Fredericton taxi company is being discriminatory by charging higher fares to customers in wheelchairs.

ABC Taxi charges customers who use its wheelchair-accessible van 25 per cent more, which is unfair, said Randy Dickinson, who raised his concerns at a meeting of Fredericton  city council's transportation committee on Thursday.

"Other passengers without disabilities take, in some situations, at least just as much time loading their groceries in and out of the trunk of a regular cab, or choosing who's going to sit in the front seat, who's going to sit in the back seat," he said.

City staff have been asked to look into the matter.

Company owner Mike Bacon said this is the first he's heard of the complaint.

But the specially-equipped van is more expensive than regular cabs and since the company does not receive any government funding, he has to charge more, he said.

Passengers in wheelchairs also require more service, said Bacon.

"They take 30- to 40 per cent longer," he said. "Some customers we deal with, we go into their house, and we give them assistance to get in to the vehicle, and then we give them assistance once on location, you know, that's part of the service."

Still, Bacon said he is willing to sit down with disability advocates to try to work out a solution.

City councillor Leah Levac said she was somewhat surprised to hear about the different fares.

Her sense was that everybody at the meeting was in general agreement that the situation is unacceptable, she said.

Now city staff will look at the complaint and consider possible ways to remedy it and that could include everything from changes in bylaws to meetings with the company and people being affected, Levac said.

"It is conceivable to me that if we got to what would be a fairly extreme situation, we would be able to say — 'If you're going to offer public transportation, or have people pay for transportation in this city, then you need to be able to service everybody in this city, including people with disabilities,'" she said.