With ride-hailing services finally able to weave through the legislative traffic that stalled operations in British Columbia, one group of customers worry that their needs won’t be able to catch a lift with such a large variety of drivers.
Green Coast Ventures Inc. has been approved by the Passenger Transportation Board to operate in Tofino, Ucluelet, Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish as the app Whistle come 2020. While this means B.C. will no longer lack a place in the ride-hailing industry, the province still lacks standardized disability awareness training for hired drivers.
One Vancouverite is not only pushing for these standards to be created—they’re hoping they’ll be mandatory as well, so that people with disabilities can expect the same level of transportation services across the province.
Heather McCain, the non-binary executive director of Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods (C.A.N.), has created an online training course for B.C.’s ride-hailing drivers that mirrors the content they recently created for Uber in Toronto.
“First of all, it teaches drivers to expect customers with disabilities, and to expect that you can't recognize who has disabilities and who doesn't because 93 percent of disabilities are invisible,” says McCain.
They believe that the taxi industry currently holds a monopoly on transportation services in Vancouver, which is why the focus is rarely on the individual needs of customers.
“We need better customer service in transportation, period,” says McCain, who says the disability training that exists is uneven and inconsistent throughout the province. “Up to now the taxi industry has not served people with disabilities well and there is a definite need for reliable alternative transportation.”
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has placed a 30 cent per-trip fee on non-accessible ride-hailing vehicles to support funding for accessibility programs.
“In addition, companies providing passenger directed vehicle services, including taxis and ride-hail companies, also have a responsibility to accommodate people who are travelling with a guide or service dog,” says spokesperson Danielle Pope. “Drivers must take all reasonable steps to avoid discriminating against people with disabilities.
Yet McCain says that their organization continues to hear complaints from blind customers who get left on the curb because taxi drivers didn’t want to take their service dog. Others have had mobility devices that they rely on improperly stored and damaged by a driver, while requests for a smoother ride by customers with chronic pain go largely ignored.
“People don't feel like there is enough of a process for how they address that situation, there’s no oversight for when they put a complaint in, so it’s a problem that happens again and again,” says McCain. “A lot of people are looking to ride-hailing if not the better option, then something that will make the current monopoly have to fight for their customers."
While they believe they’re close to actualizing their dream for mandatory disability awareness training, the biggest hurdle has been getting people to acknowledge the need for it.
“People with disabilities are still often seen as a small interest group and a small percentage of society,” says McCain, though Canada’s most recent report shows that 22 percent of people over 15 live with a disability in this country. “Unfortunately the international symbol of accessibility, a person with a wheelchair, has a lot to answer for because it has given people the idea that you can see disability and that disability looks like one thing.”