One cab company is single-handedly raising the accessible cab stock in Winnipeg and hoping to take it to the next level within the next year, says Metro. Nearly 90 per cent of all All Access Taxi rides are for people with limited mobility. And that’s pretty unique in the taxi and public transport industry.
It might be hard for Winnipeggers to get a cab in short order, but it’s even harder for those living with disabilities or mobility challenges, comments the paper correctly. Winnipeg has 410 taxicabs available, but only 49 accessible cabs, seven of which were licensed within the last year thanks to one pioneering dispatch company trying to improve the accessible cab stock.
“I’ve been in this business for almost seven years,“ All-Access Taxi manager Kamal Solaimani told Metro. „From the beginning of my work driving for (another) company as an accessible taxi driver, I could see the demand, especially in the wheelchair community.” He has learned that people in the disabled community often find their mobility around the city further restricted by the very systems that should help them – whether it’s the lack of accessible cabs or the rigid book-in-advance Handi-Transit system.
Solaimani said passengers told him sometimes they are picked up and dropped off way earlier than needed for medical appointments, and if they miss their ride they could be stranded for hours waiting on another. “I started studying and researching wheelchair demand in the city of Winnipeg, comparing service levels to other cities… I searched many cities in America too, and I compared Winnipeg,” he said. “I found we were somehow behind in bringing reliable service to the wheelchair community.”
So he decided to do something about it. In April 2011, he started All-Access taxi driving on his own, offering door-to-door accessible cab service. One year ago in October, he got four more licensees and cabs doing the same. He pays his drivers an up-front incentive to put mobility-challenged clients first, and has committed to focus almost strictly on that community.
All-Access will try to add two more cabs in mid-October which would raise the fleet to nine cabs for this winter. Based on his number-crunching over the past year, Solaimani said he figures the city needs “24 more accessible taxis” in order to give the people who need them the same service as every other Winnipegger. “By next year at this time, I will say that there would be no single wheelchair in the city of Winnipeg requiring an accessible taxi able to say ‘I am stranded,” he said. “This is my goal.”
Taxicab Board chairperson Randy Williams said All-Access affiliated license applicants attend hearings with their determined leader and often grateful customers singing their praises. “They’ve created the demand, the people who need accessible taxis are enjoying (the door-to-door service), they want the 15-minute time between when you call to when you get it,” Williams said. “People are coming in, saying ‘I really enjoy the fact I can just go out for coffee… call up a cab and go to a movie, or even if I want to go out late at night, I don’t have to worry about being within Handi-Transit hours.’”
Williams explained Solaimani told the board his accessible cabs would increase their percentage of accessible rides—something other accessible cabs are not beholden to and often shirk to collect more conventional fares—and the board put a caveat on the licenses to hold All-Access to that promise. He said it’s common for accessible cabs to do 15 to 20 per cent accessible rides, but in August, All-Access cabs did “almost 90 per cent.“