Toronto's auditor general is reviewing the operations of TTC Wheel-Trans as concerns grow over its accessible taxi service in the city, CBC News has learned.
The Toronto Transit Commission provides door-to-door accessible transit service for people with physical disabilities using accessible buses and contracted taxis.
But taxi drivers are having trouble keeping up with the demand.Haile Mebrahtu must pick up dozens of Wheel-Trans clients during his 12-hour shift, six days a week, as specified in the contract he signed with his cab company.
If he doesn't drive his cab, he not only doesn't make a profit, but he actually loses money because he still has to pay his expenses, Mebrahtu told CBC News.
Those payments total about $4,000 a month just in car payments, insurance and gas.
Mehbrahtu works for one of three taxi companies on contract with the TTC to provide accessible cab service. While, he has no complaints about his company, he said it's almost impossible to keep to the schedule set by the TTC.
If the drivers are late $30 is deducted from their pay.
Pickups and dropoffs are so tightly packed that Mehbrahtu often eats in his cab.
"That is the problem. Sometimes, you never know I might mess it in my pants," he said of balancing his lunch on his lap. "It's not [an]
Drivers, clients want change
Other drivers to whom CBC spoke echoed Mebrahtu's concerns and said clients also suffer.
Ann Kennedy, who relies on accessible taxi service to get to and from work at the Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario, said she has been frustrated and worried about delays.
"I myself have been late by an hour, an hour and a half at times and how do you explain that to your employer," Kennedy said. "How many times are they going to tolerate it?"
She said many of her association's members have had similar experiences.
'It's our human right to be able to get around with dignity and freedom, and be able to be punctual ..." —Ann Kennedy, Wheel-Trans client
"There are lots of difficulties — people not getting to their destinations on time, people waiting for hours to get picked up."
Both drivers and clients agree that changes need to be made.
Mehbrahtu said he's airing his concerns now out of frustration.
"I'm done, I'm fed up with this. … Somebody has to speak up and it has to change."
"It's our human right to be able to get around with dignity and freedom, and be able to be punctual and live our lives as independently as possible," she said.
An advocacy group representing the drivers has brought the concerns to the TTC and to city hall. It says the cab companies get paid $80,000 a month each from the TTC but they simply pass on a schedule to the drivers.
Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, who has been a long time proponent of taxi reform, said he has major concerns about the contracts the TTC has signed with the cab companies.