City cracking down on elusive accessible taxis

The City of Ottawa is cracking down on drivers of wheelchair-accessible cabs who aren't always available for customers who need them.

8 charges and more to come, bylaw chief tells councillors

About 17 per cent of Ottawa's licensed taxi fleet is wheelchair-accessible. Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft pay the city a seven-cent-per-trip surcharge because they don't offer the service. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

The City of Ottawa is cracking down on drivers of wheelchair-accessible cabs who aren't always available for customers who need them.

The city recently laid eight charges under its taxi bylaw and plans to lay more, chief bylaw officer Roger Chapman said Thursday.

We know it's a problem.- Anthony Di Monte, GM, community and protective services

Currently, 191 of the taxis on Ottawa's roads — about 17 per cent of the fleet — are accessible, and the city has only issued accessible taxi licences over the past decade.

The bylaw stipulates that any accessible cab must be on the road at least 10 hours a day, five days a week, but Chapman said people with disabilities often struggle to find a ride, especially on weekends and other off-peak hours.

"We know it's a problem," the city's general manager of community and protective services, Anthony Di Monte, acknowledged Thursday.

"Those vehicles have to be available 24 hours, seven days a week, for this community."

The city began investigating in September why accessible taxis are often unavailable, according to Ottawa's chief bylaw officer, Roger Chapman. (Kate Porter/CBC)

'What on Earth is wrong with Ottawa?'

The issue came as councillors on the community and protective services committee looked at how to spend the $1.25 million the city has so far collected from ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft.

Those companies don't offer accessible service, but voluntarily pay seven cents per trip into a fund the city created to improve accessibility.

Resident Grace McClelland-Crout told the committee there have been times when she's had to go to hospital by ambulance in the middle of the night, but her husband, who uses a wheelchair, is unable to follow her because he can't get a taxi.

Resident Grace McClelland-Crout says Ottawa's accessible transportation system compares poorly to accessible taxicabs and versions of Para Transpo in many other Canadian cities. 0:43

The couple has taken accessible cabs and versions of Para Transpo in Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg and elsewhere, McClelland-Crout said, but has never encountered the the long waits they've faced in Ottawa.

"The way they treat the disabled is totally different," she said. "What on Earth is wrong with Ottawa?"

Surcharge too low, councillors argue

Several councillors said the seven cent per trip surcharge from Uber and Lyft, which brings in about $720,000 per year, is too little to cover the true cost of improving accessible transportation.

"[It's] nothing compared to what they pull out of this city ... because we allow them to operate legally," Coun. Catherine McKenney said.

"I would think the bidding should begin at at least a dollar a ride, when you look at the need and demand [for accessible transportation] that exist in the city," Coun. Riley Brockington agreed.

Di Monte said the city will attempt to negotiate a bigger surcharge next time it sits down with the ride-hailing companies.

The challenge is that the province has yet to give municipalities the power to require Uber and other companies to pay an accessibility levy, so for now, it's voluntary.

The city has been petitioning the province for that power, so far to no avail.


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