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Disability advocates worry new Calgary accessible taxi dispatch won’t improve wait

Questions are being raised about the affordability and reliability of Calgary’s new centralized accessible taxi dispatch service.

The new service, operating under the name Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Calgary (WAV), launched Wednesday and provides on-demand wheelchair accessible taxis.

WAV Calgary will pool the services of all active and licensed wheelchair accessible taxis and will dispatch the closest available accessible taxi regardless of the taxi company.

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The service will be a game changer, said Lauri Brunner, chair of the city’s Advisory Committee on Accessibility, in a release.

“It’s been very frustrating for customers who rely on wheelchairs. The wait times were often long, and wheelchair customers have told us there have been times when they’ve missed medical appointments or social activities,” Brunner said.

“This is very good news for persons who use wheelchairs and mobility scooters and need a taxi 24/7.”

The wait time for accessible transportation like Calgary Transit Access and accessible taxis have always been lengthy, according to Mickey Greiner, executive director of the Calgary Society for Persons with Disabilities (CSPD.)

“We’ve had people come at the last minute because their bus was more than half-an-hour late,” Greiner said.

CSPD supports people with developmental disabilities like autism and down syndrome, and some clients require the use of a wheelchair.

Greiner said users in need of accessible transportation are often given a half-hour window to wait for their bus or taxi.

Because of the wait times, the CSPD has two accessible vehicles and an agency van to transport their clients. Greiner said it has made a huge difference in their quality of life.

More accessible taxi drivers needed to bring wait times down

The wait times are “long and unacceptable,” said Brad Robertson, advocate at the Disability Action House.

Robertson said that taxi companies need to have more accessible drivers so that there isn’t that great of a wait time, especially when they’re paying the same fare.  

“Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you should have to wait as long as you do for Calgary Transit Access,” said Robertson.

The City has issued 189 accessible taxi plate licenses.

“Most of our clients are on AISH, and so due to that, they would have very limited financial opportunity to use the program,” said Greiner.

Greiner added that WAV would only work if it was used on an occasional basis or if there was a subsidy in place.

“Maybe [for] several trips a month or something because people wouldn’t be using every day, it’s not affordable for them.”

Greiner said her expectation would be if they’re paying for regular cab fare, then that service should be the same as any other cab.

“I could call a cab right now and then I could have a cab here in five or 10 minutes, whereas with Access Calgary and the program they’re using right now, a half-hour wait time perhaps?” Greiner said.

Calgary’s aim is to improve waits, access

Abdul Rafih, the city’s manager of compliance service said this is a step towards improving Calgary’s taxi service for wheelchair users.

Annually, Calgary logs roughly 17,000 trips wheelchair-accessible taxi trips.

“Since these customers are paying the same metered rate as non-accessible users, we want to make sure they are getting the same level of service,” said Rafih.

In the past, Rafih said some users have waited up to an hour, and in frustration, called several taxi companies waiting for the first one to arrive.

For more information, visit WAVCalgary.com