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Halifax taxi reform highlights accessibility

Taxi industry review could mean big changes before the Big Change

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Uber’s inevitable arrival inches closer after council’s transportation standing committee sent the Vehicle for Hire Licensing Program Review through to council Tuesday morning. With a few amendments, the staff report, based on Hara Consultants review will make big changes for the municipality’s taxi drivers from increasing training for drivers, adding GPS in cars, making credit and debit machines mandatory and increasing the limit on the number of licences available.

A supplementary report is to be prepared to look at implementing Transportation Network Companies (TNC)s like Uber or Lyft—which kept the ride-sharing giants out of the discussion. But Dartmouth Councillor Sam Austin warns that all these plans to burgeon up the taxi industry may be for nothing if they’re not also discussing what happens when the city “inevitably” of lets another company “come in and have a free for all.”

The report’s third recommendation addresses the issue of accessible taxis in the city, which Councillor Waye Mason says is a “market failure system.” “Right now, the taxi system does not make enough money for a taxi driver to drive. They are losing money when they are on the road,” says Mason. Municipal Staff suggest subsidizing the accessible taxi industry with one-time grants of $10,000 and subsidizing trips once on the road. At its height, Halifax had 57 accessible cabs.

Today there’s only 16 and Vicky Levack, 28, a public speaker in Halifax who relies on accessible transit to get around the city says you’ll never see one on the road after 6pm. “It’s like they think disabled people don’t go out when the sun goes down. Which is totally false.” Levack has only taken 6 taxis in the past year.

Incentive and subsidies are one solution, but hopeful drivers have spent as many as 13 years on the waitlist instead of driving an accessible taxi. Councillor Lindell Smith warns that the report’s suggestion to add 600 licences could mean accessible drivers will swiftly swap for regular licenses. Not having reliable access to taxi services leave Levack’s life without any spontaneity.

"Even if I just wanted a Starbucks. I have to be like oh I want a Starbucks but I have to wait a week. Able-bodied people don’t have to do that.” Levack says this isn’t an issue of special pricing for “special needs.”

“You can’t put a price on my autonomy.”

The crowd of taxi drivers at Tuesday’s meeting were concerned about costs of changes and maintaining their business, which many say is already hard enough. And with a new report on the way about how ride-sharing services can work in Halifax, the changes may be all for naught.
 

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