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Coquitlam mayor steps in after elderly man in wheelchair waits hours for taxi

Coquitlam, B.C. -

The mayor of Coquitlam got a phone call Monday night from an elderly neighbour who had scheduled a Bel Air Taxi wheelchair van to pick him up from a restaurant. The man had been waiting for over two hours.

“Despite booking it, and despite promises, the cab never showed up. And it’s simply a reality we deal with all too often with this taxi company,” said Mayor Richard Stewart, who has gotten involved in the past when Bel Air didn’t pick up passengers in wheelchairs.

This time, he got through to a woman in dispatch.

“She was honest. She said, 'We have no wheelchair cabs on the road tonight,' which is against their licensing,” said Stewart.

As part of its licensing agreement, Bel Air is supposed to ensure there are wheelchair-assessable taxis on the road and available to pick up passengers who need them.

“It really is an enormous challenge, because they have this monopoly in the Tri-Cities,” said Stewart, who suspects Bel Air wheelchair vans are parked because they cost more to operate and trips take longer than in a standard Toyota Prius cab.

”The driver for the night wants the cheapest vehicle to operate, and the one he can make the most money in. A wheelchair pickup is a slower process, and they get paid effectively the same per kilometre,” Stewart.

Inder Naan, the manager of Bel Air Taxi, acknowledges passengers in wheelchairs often have long waits to get picked up in an accessible van. But he insists it’s not because they cost more to drive, it’s due to a shortage of trained drivers.

“Most of the drivers, they want to ride-share, right? They went to Uber. They went to Lyft instead of spending more time on wheelchair (training),” said Naan, who added not all drivers can operate wheelchair vans.

“This is special training with the wheelchair drivers to put the belts, to drive slowly on the curve. There is many, many things for that. We can’t put everyone on wheelchair.”

Naan regrets what happened to the elderly passenger on Monday night, and says the driver shortage was partly due to the holiday.

“Right now, I have 12 to 13 vans onto road, but last night at that time, I don’t have one,” he said, adding his company is committed to accommodating its wheelchair passengers.

Stewart says that’s not good enough. He wants the Passenger Transportation Board, which approves taxi licenses, to ensure companies who hold them always have wheelchair vans on the road.

“Figure it out. Let’s find the solution. But it can’t be that the mayor has to pick up the phone in the middle of the night and call the dispatcher and say, 'You did it again,'” said Stewart.

After the mayor stepped in, the elderly passenger who was left waiting Monday night was eventually picked up and brought home. Top Stories

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