Wheelchair-accessible taxis spark debate at Williams Lake City Council

The idea of adopting a bylaw that would require local taxi companies to incorporate a wheelchair accessible taxi sparked debate.

While the suggestion that the city encourage a local taxi company to purchase a wheelchair accessible vehicle was easy to swallow at Tuesday’s regular council meeting, the idea of adopting a bylaw that would require local taxi companies to incorporate a wheelchair accessible taxi sparked debate.

Coun. Ivan Bonnell agreed with the intent of encouraging the taxi company to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, but did not agree with government imposing its will on the company.

“We’re not suggesting that we’re doing that tonight, but we are putting the wheels in motion to have that discussion,” he said, adding council has not heard back from the company yet and questioned why the city would want to move in the direction of a bylaw to begin with.

Coun. Surinderpal Rathor disagreed, saying the city should move ahead to develop a bylaw.

“Why wait? If someone wants to run a taxi company they should be asked to do that because that’s what we’re going to need to address the aging population in our community,” Rathor said.

Coun. Danica Hughes took exception to a report comparing Williams Lake with larger cities such as Kamloops and Prince George.

“I don’t think it’s a fair comparison at all. I think we should be comparing ourselves with Quesnel or similarly populated municipalities,” Hughes said, adding she thinks the city should wait and see how the HandyDART‘s extended hours play out.

It could be a huge financial burden for a taxi company to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, Hughes said.

“I’m wondering where we expect the taxi company to get the money to purchase it and be assured that they would get their money back. We could be putting a burden on them that could put them out of business.”

Agreeing with Bonnell, she said the city absolutely cannot impose its will on the taxi company.

Rathor pointed out that in Whistler there are six wheelchair-accessible taxis. Parksville has two wheelchair-accessible taxis. Both communities have similar populations to Williams Lake.

“In the days to come we need to look at this bylaw. The citizens deserve better than this. We are building a dog park for $20,000. I’m pretty sure we can do something,” Rathor said.

Coun. Laurie Walters echoed Rathor and said there is an established need in the community for the service.

“I think the option is still there for the taxi service. We’re not forcing him to purchase a taxi, but I think we need to take the next step forward. We’re moving toward an ICSP plan (Integrated Community Sustainability Plan) to further accessibility in our community and provide services to our seniors,” Walters said.

There are other municipalities in the province that have established bylaws that require taxi fleets of a certain number to include a wheelchair-accessibility vehicle in their fleet,  chief administrative officer Brian Carruthers told council.

Carruthers said even if the hours are extended to HandyDART, say until 6 p.m., it will still prevent someone in a wheelchair from going out in the evening.

“A wheelchair taxi would provide accessibility 24-seven,” he said.

At the end of the discussion, council passed two motions — one to enter into a discussion with the local taxi company about purchasing a wheelchair accessible vehicle, and the other to ask staff to further investigate the possibility of adopting a bylaw.

Voicing disappointment that things aren’t moving quicker, Audrey MacLise, chair of the local Senior Advisory Committee, said the city and the city’s accessibility committee have already done lots of research on getting an accessibility taxi for Williams Lake.

“It’s very disappointing that we’re not reaching conclusions. It seems unfair that people with wheelchairs have limitations on them because most events in the city take place in the evening and on weekends,” MacLise said, adding that handicap taxis can be used for regular fares so they aren’t just sitting there.

Accessibility is about inclusion, she added.