Metro Morning

Uber and taxis compete for every rider - including, finally, wheelchair users

An unintended consequence of the battle between Uber and the taxi industry in this city is that wheelchair users are getting better services.

New and improved services emerge for wheelchair users

The first new UberWAV ride in Toronto, from Jan. 7, 2015. (Uber Toronto)

An unintended consequence of the battle between Uber and the taxi industry in this city is that wheelchair users are getting better services.

That's according to Peter Athanasopoulos, a wheelchair user who was used to waiting hours and spending exorbitant fees to get rides in Toronto.

Historically, wheelchair users have had few transportation options in this city. But with the launch of UberWAV, Uber's wheelchair accessible ride service, and 550 new accessible taxis on Toronto streets, things are changing.

Athanasopoulos, a senior manager at Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, said these changes have made it easier for him to get around the city.

He said it often used to take hours to hail a ride in Toronto. With UberWAV, it might take 15 minutes. And taxi fleets can get you a car in 20 to 30 minutes.

If you were having this conversation three years ago, Athanasopoulos would've told you it's embarrassing how far behind Toronto is with accessible transportation.

"We finally have healthy competition within this industry in Toronto," he told Metro Morning.

Athanasopoulos has used UberWAV four times in total since it relaunched in Toronto on Jan. 7. The first three times, he had no issues. The fourth time, there were no vehicles available.

With taxis, he said there seems to be a genuine interest from drivers now. He gets better service when he calls in and when the driver comes to pick him up.

Athanasopoulos said in the past, wheelchair users were charged as much as a $30 flat fee by cars contracted by taxi companies. Meaning no matter the distance, wheelchair users were spending more than $30 each ride.

That turned out to be illegal under the Taxicab Bill of Rights, which states, "Passengers cannot be charged extra because of a disability or for a mobility device."

But the problem persisted, until only recently.

"That isn't happening anymore," he said. "Because of healthy competition, they can't get away with scams like that anymore."

Surprisingly, UberWAV is able to exist because Uber partnered with Dignity Transportation, one of those services that used to charge the $30 flat rate.

But now that is a cheaper service through UberWAV.

"They already had the vehicles ready, and the partnership has enabled a more sustainable business model for them," said Athanasopoulos.

City staff are currently reviewing Toronto's ground transportation policy.

The city has been reviewing the issue of accessible taxis since 2011. In 2014, council decided that the Toronto Taxicab License or TTL would eventually cover 100 per cent of cabs, meaning these would accessible.

The goal was to get six per cent of cabs onto this license by April, 2015. But the city exceeded this goal and had 10 per cent — or 451 vehicles — of all cabs accessible by that date.

Vanessa Fletcher, the city's policy and planning advisor in charge of taxi review, said there are now 550 TTLs in Toronto.

Athanasopoulos hopes the current review comes back saying that vehicles will be 100 per cent accessible by 2024 — both Uber and taxis.


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