Monday, November 19, 2007

Committee considers accessible taxis; Pilot project would involve three cabs

From the Kingston Whig-Standard Website:

When Mary Margaret Dauphinee needs to get across town, she has to book her ride two weeks in advance.

Dauphinee uses an accessible scooter to get around. The Kingston Access Bus can get her from her apartment by the Kingston Centre to the west end or downtown, but she has to make her plans ahead of time.

Unfortunately, Kingston doesn't have any accessible taxis.

"A lot of people would use the taxis. A lot of people can afford them and would be willing to use them for the convenience," Dauphinee said.

As vice chair of the city's accessibility committee, Dauphinee has heard enough from those who face accessibility issues that it has become one of the main goals of the committee for 2008.

City hall licenses all taxis in Kingston and can hand out permits for companies to have accessible vehicles.

Work is underway to launch a pilot project that would see three accessible taxis in the city. Unlike the Access Bus, they would be available throughout the day and not require booking weeks in advance.

"Certainly taxis would be very good," said Glenn Outhwaite, who joined the committee last year shortly after he started using a wheelchair.

"It will happen. It's just a process we have to go through, but it's just a matter of time."

The committee identified the creation of an accessible taxi program as a priority in its 2008 report, that was released last week and will be the focus of a public meeting Wednesday night. Based on the input from the meeting, the committee and city staff will make additions or revisions to the document before council accepts it next month.

The accessibility committee writes in a report that it will outline options for the city to "motivate, and/or penalize local taxi companies, to put accessible vehicle(s) in their fleet."

The accessibility report is an evaluation of how far the city has come, and how far is still has to go to become completely accessible.

"... the widely held opinion of the longest-serving [committee] members is that there has been more proactivity regarding planning for accessibility in more City of Kingston departments than has been seen in previous years," the report says.

The report also includes a plan for 2008 that lays out what the accessibility committee plans to do and what projects it believes are important issues for the city.

Among those issues is that of accessible taxis, vans or cars that would be able to accommodate someone in a wheelchair inside the vehicle without the person having to leave their chair.

"Despite demand, Kingston-based private taxicab operators, have found that they can no longer economically justify offering accessible taxi vehicles for people using wheelchairs [or] scooters," the report says. "Without accessible taxicabs, Kingston has a void in transportation services available."

The accessible taxis would give residents in wheelchairs an alternative from the Access Bus, the report says. Not everyone qualifies for the Access Bus and the service cannot always meet demand, the report notes.

"A private taxicab company can offer a more flexible service than publicly operated accessible buses," the committee writes.

The issue right now is cost, Dauphinee said. The committee will look at options about how to license vehicles, possibly providing a financial incentive to purchase vehicles or setting a minimum fare for accessible taxis, she said.

Outhwaite said demand for the service would only increase if it becomes a reality.

"Our population is getting older," he said. "You're going to have more demand in the system."

What, where

The 2008 accessibility plan can be downloaded online at A public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday night at 5 p.m. in the Loyalist Room of City Hall.

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