Bylaw change would create taxi licence requiring holder to operate an accessible vehicle

Thompson’s city council is considering a change to its taxicab bylaw in hopes of ensuring that there is always one taxi that is accessible to people with disabilities.

First reading of the taxicab bylaw amendment was approved unanimously at council’s June 22 meeting. The change would see one of the city’s two existing limousine licences, which is currently not assigned to an operator, be converted to a taxi licence that would require the holder to operated a handicapped-accessible vehicle.

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The motivation for the change, which would increase the total amount of taxi licences in Thompson from 42 to 43, is that two previously accessible taxis were recently converted to regular taxis by their owners.

“There is no requirement in our bylaw that these licences had to remain as adapted taxis,” said a memo to mayor and council from licence inspector Frank Sharpe.

The bylaw changes would require the holder of the accessible taxi licence to give priority service to anyone with a physical disability, as was required of operators of adapted taxis before, and to be available to dispatch from Monday to Sunday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The changes would also reduce the number of limousine licences in the city to one.

Councillors were supportive of the change though some suggested more might need to be done to ensure that operating an accessible taxi makes economic sense.

“I believe we have to give incentive for that because it’s not an easy way to run their business,” said Coun. Duncan Wong. “It’s very expensive and we only charge the same rate. I suggest you give an incentive for those companies to have a handi-taxi to serve the community.”

Coun Andre Proulx agreed with Wong, and also with deputy mayor Les Ellsworth, who said that one accessible taxi may not be enough, though Sharpe’s memo said the operators of the previously accessible taxis said they received a maximum of two to three calls a day from people with disabilities requiring service.

“We really do need to make sure that we have a handicapped taxi,” said Proulx. “it would be nice to have two if one breaks down or for whatever reason and I do think there would probably have to be an incentive to keep them going because as a business owner it’s kind of unfair.”

Thompson resident Kristopher Blake, who uses a wheelchair, says he used the accessible taxis in winter to attend Norman Northstars hockey games and that having at least one accessible taxi is essential.

“There must be some sort of transportation in the city of Thompson for disabled people,” said Blake. “I’d like to see it 24 hours, three drivers minimum. The only reason I sawy24 hours is because of emergencies only. Say something happens to me and I’ve got to go to the hospital right now. Of course, if it’s absolutely urgent, I’m going to call an ambulance. But if I cut my finger and need a stitch, I’m not going to call an ambulance for that and get a bill. I’d rather call a taxi, ‘OK, I cut my finger, I need a stitch,’ and go to the hospital at two o’clock in the morning.”

Manitoba Possible, previously known as the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities, said in a statement emailed to the Thompson Citizen that having at least one accessible taxi in Thompson would be a good start.

“Public transportation remains an area that is accessibility challenged. We support and encourage the council and taxi operators to become more and more accessible. Having a minimum of one accessible taxi operator is a start and a step in the right direction in addressing the needs of Thompson’s residents.”

The bylaw amendement needs to pass second and third reading before it would take effect. Counci's next meeting is scheduled for July 13.

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