Advocates call for safer, more accessible taxis in Edmonton
Committees suggest the city waives licence fees for accessible cabs
The City of Edmonton needs to do more to ensure taxi service is safer and more accessible for everyone, at least a dozen people will argue at a committee meeting at city hall Monday.
The Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) and Women's Advocacy Voice of Edmonton (WAVE) plan to present several recommendations to the community and public services committee.
The committee will hear the suggestions as it also reviews the city's annual vehicle for hire report.
Tonia LaRiviere, chair of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, said they're asking the city to give taxi drivers financial incentives to operate accessible vans, such as waiving the $423 a year in licence fees.
"To drive an accessible taxi, currently there is an understandable unwillingness to drive one because it's more expensive to do so," LaRiviere said in an interview Friday with CBC News.
Phil Strong, president of Greater Edmonton Taxi Service Inc., said fewer and fewer drivers want to invest in accessible vehicles because they cost more than a regular vehicle by about $40-$50,000.
"They're heavier — the ramps make them heavier. Therefore, fuel consumption is heavier," Strong said. "they have to travel longer distances to go get a client. And it's not fair to the driver."
Strong said of his 500-vehicle fleet, only 15-20 are accessible vans. There are about 1,300 taxis city-wide, he added.
Around the city, there are 70 active accessible taxis, a city spokesperson said in an email Friday.
Strong agrees the city could do more to make the vans more affordable for drivers, he told CBC News.
"It's unfortunately the wheelchair community that's getting the raw end of the stick and I freely admit that," he said. "They deserve better, but we need help."
The AAC is pushing the city to create a centralized dispatch for accessible rides to make the process faster for customers, LaRiviere said.
"Because there aren't enough accessible taxis, there are long wait times — like up to four hours to get an accessible taxi — or the taxi doesn't show up at all," she said.
The city report includes proposed changes to the vehicle for hire bylaw, such as creating mandatory driver training, having recording devices installed in all taxis and an independent complaint and investigation service.
One of the top concerns for women is safety and how drivers behave, argues Angelika Matson, chair of the Women's Advocacy Voice of Edmonton committee.
WAVE is also asking the city to create regulated training to educate drivers on cultural, gender and accessibility sensitivities.
Matson said women report uncomfortable exchanges, so the training would help teach drivers what language and behaviour is appropriate.
"It's not appropriate to ask for her phone number, for example," Matson said. "Because that makes women feel unsafe."
The training would cover how drivers should treat LGBTQ people, and customers who are hearing or visually impaired, she said.
Strong said the Edmonton Taxi Service has a solid training program and a complaint line.
But the city report says it will explore creating a third-party system to handle complaints.
The ideas are far from new.
LaRiviere said the AAC presented similar suggestions in 2013.
"Our biggest concern is the length of time that it's taking the city to implement these changes," LaRiviere said. "We need to see these changes happen and we need them expedited."
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The city has a taxi reserve fund, collected from dispatch and vehicle licence fees.
In 2021, the city collected $926,000 from ride-sharing companies like Uber, while it took in $232,000 from conventional taxi and dispatchers.
The city uses the fund for unplanned expenses. For example, it drew on it to compensate for lost revenue when it reduced or waived fees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rideshare companies like Uber are also governed by the bylaw in certain categories, not including things like installing a trip meter or requiring a specific taxi license plate.