Accessible transportation in BC is in crisis and taxis aren’t helping

People with disabilities need to be more than pawns or talking-points in ride-hailing wars

The arrival of ride-hailing services has caused disputes with the taxi industry. Photo: Andres Chavarriaga/The Peak

By: Liam Wilson, Peak Associate

After years of waiting, ride-hailing finally launched in Vancouver last month, a move that was applauded by much of the local community. 

It’s not hard to see why people are excited about ride-hailing. A quick glance at some of the Google reviews for several Vancouver taxi companies reveal scores of two stars or less. The reviews cite high prices, long pickup times, and rude drivers. The thought of being able to take a ride that’s cheaper, convenient, modern, and friendlier would excite anyone.

Unfortunately, those with accessibility needs haven’t been able to join in on the excitement. Much criticism has been leveled at the BC Passenger Transportation Board (PTB), who have not implemented any requirements for wheelchair accessible vehicles in ride-hailing fleets. Additionally, they have only levied a 30-cent fee for non-accessible ride-hailing trips, which PTB vaguely said will go towards “funding for accessibility programs.” 

It’s a shame, because many people who depend on mobility aids such as wheelchairs need more accessible transportation options. Buses and HandyDART may be inconvenient or unavailable, and taxis can be a nightmare to deal with.

For background, taxis are required to have 17% of their fleet be made up of accessible vehicles, but those vehicles don’t need to be on the road. They often sit unused in lots because they’re much more expensive to operate and don’t earn as much money for taxi drivers. To combat this, taxi companies usually subsidize drivers who take accessible vehicles to make driving them worth the time. Unfortunately, people with disabilities still regularly report waiting hours for accessible taxis to show up, despite booking in advance.

Even when accessible taxis are on the road, there are plenty of problems. People with disabilities regularly tell stories of taxis refusing them service or refusing to take certain payment types — such as TaxiSaver vouchers — from them, both of which are illegal.

At the end of January, the Vancouver Taxi Association (VTA) stated that they would no longer subsidize taxi drivers for driving accessible vehicles. This understandably brought a wave of public outcry. VTA cited the fact that ride-hailing companies are not required by the PTB to have accessible vehicles in their fleets. Taxi drivers will now have almost no monetary incentive to drive accessible taxis, further shrinking an already short supply of accessible transportation.

It’s clear that taxis and ride-hailing are always going to operate only in their self-interest, with accessible transportation not seeming to fall into that category. We should all be calling on the PTB to introduce tighter regulations and higher subsidies so accessible transportation can operate. 

There’s been a lot of talk in the past year about creating a “level playing field” for taxis and ride-hailing to fairly compete on, but whatever playing field the PTB creates, we should at the very least make sure it’s one that fairly serves every member of our local communities.