Here’s a scenario: you and a friend have spent a pleasant evening out. It’s late, and it’s cold, and so you both decide to splurge on a ride home. You live in different directions, so you’ll need two vehicles. You each request a vehicle, and after a short wait, your ride arrives.
Once home, you text your friend to make sure she got home safely and find out that she is still waiting in the cold! She uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, and there isn’t an accessible vehicle nearby.
There is a danger that this will become the new normal in Ottawa.
Against the advice of accessibility advocates, the City of Ottawa decided in 2016 not to require transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft to provide wheelchair-accessible service, as other cities do. Instead, the City decided to ask the companies for a voluntary surcharge that would go into an “accessibility fund” meant to improve accessibility in other ways.
The City’s consultants, KPMG, recommended that the accessibility surcharge be 30 cents per ride. Total surcharges for these companies in other cities are much higher: US$0.72 per ride in Chicago and US$2.75 in New York City.
Accessibility advocates have no shortage of ideas as to how money in the fund could be spent: when consulted by the City in 2018, they put forward 33 recommendations. The top priority was to increase the number of accessible vehicles. Also near the top of the list was creating an online, self-serve booking system for ParaTranspo.
Unfortunately, the accessibility surcharge has shrunk from the recommended 30 cents per ride to a mere 7 cents per ride — far too meager to make much of a difference. In fact, City staff have already warned accessibility advocates not to expect too much from the accessibility fund.
With the possibility that companies such as Uber will take over more of the market — diluting the already often inadequate service for people using motorized wheelchairs and scooters — that’s just not good enough. The KPMG report clearly sets out the risks:
The economics of the taxi industry have been changing with the introduction of new competition. In New York City there are reports of many taxis being parked because there is insufficient demand. Should that occur in Ottawa, the incentive could be to park the accessible vehicles first, as they are the most expensive to operate. There has already been concern expressed that accessible taxis may not be on the road as often as other taxis.
Other cities, including the City of Toronto, simply require companies such as Uber to provide wheelchair-accessible service with the same fees and wait-times as non-accessible service. We can do that here, too.
And in the short term, the very least the City can do is to increase the accessibility surcharge to 30 cents per ride or even more, so that we have the funds to take real steps to make transportation equitable for all — a very reasonable expectation in 2019.
Tell the Mayor and your City Councillor that you want:
- the accessibility surcharge for companies like Uber to be immediately increased to 30 cents per ride or more; and
- work to begin on requiring companies like Uber to provide wheelchair-accessible service at the same rates and wait-times as their non-accessible service.
You can also tell your Councillor in person that you expect action on this file at a budget 2019 consultation. Find out when your Councillor is holding one here.
Then ask your friends and neighbours to do the same!