Thompson city council passing a taxicab bylaw amendment that, among other things, ensures that there will be at least one taxi operator licence the requires the holder to operate a vehicle that is accessible to persons with disabilities is a good move, even if we are already one-fifth of the way through the 21st century and many people might have thought that this would have already been accomplished many years ago.
The fact that there are insufficient transportation options in Thompson for people with disabilities has been known for more than a quarter-century, as a handitransit feasibility study was completed in 1994. But, although that process apparently led to the creation of taxi licences specifically for accessible vehicles, either the requirement was never enshrined in the taxicab bylaw, or changes were made in the last two-and-a-half decades that removed the requirement for two of the 42 taxi licences in Thompson to be set aside for accessible vehicles. Whatever the reason is, council has somewhat rectified that oversight or shortsighted change, at least partially, by converting an unused limousine licence into a taxi licence specifically intended for a vehicle that is accessible to people with disabilities.
Using a wheelchair can be hard enough without adding the burden of not having a way to get around when travelling by wheelchair is nearly impossible, like in the winter, or potentially dangerous, like late at night, or simply to save time. Even if someone with a vehicle that can accommodate wheelchairs steps forward to apply for and is successful in being granted the 43rd taxi licence that now exists in Thompson, the bylaw will only require them to provide priority service to people with disabilities between the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., which doesn’t do you much good when, like Thompson’s Kristopher Blake, you are huge hockey fan and like to attend Norman Northstars games on Saturday nights, which end about the time that a handicapped-accessible taxi will no longer be required to provide priority service, or even service at all. That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be, as most taxi owner-operators usually rent out their vehicles to other drivers to use when they are not driving them themselves. But council members such as deputy mayor Les Ellsworth and Coun. Andre Proulx are right when they say that this bylaw amendment, aimed to correct a situation that allowed Thompson to end up with no taxis specially designed to accommodate people with disabilities, should not be considered a job well done, but merely one already started. To have only one public transport vehicle, as well as the handivan, available for Thompson’s population of people with disabilities to use is, really, pretty pathetic.
Thompson politicians and boosters and business owners like to tout the city as the Hub of the North, not only because of its location but because of the many services it provides to residents of surrounding communities, like shopping, recreation, health care and education. But over the past few years, thanks to things like the Norplex Pool being closed down and transit having a tough time even getting on the road, let alone staying there, lack of services that were previously considered a given has become more the order of the day. For people with disabilities, true mobility is sorely lacking and, until Monday night, wasn’t even guaranteed by a bylaw when it came to taxi service in Thompson.