Two impromptu motions were passed during Tuesday’s City of Kamloops council meeting, both targeted at improving options for accessible transit in the Tournament Capital.
Coun. Sadie Hunter put forward a motion to seek a meeting with Rob Fleming, the minister for transportation and infrastructure, to discuss ongoing concerns with Taxi Saver vouchers, used as an alternative to handyDART buses.
“I don’t think we’re the only community that’s struggling with inadequate accessible taxi service and the implementation of the taxi saver supplement system,” Hunter said.
Hunter’s motion, along with a second motion from Coun. Bill Sarai, were introduced while council was discussing BC Transit’s annual operating agreement for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal year. City staff brought forward a report, looking for authorization for the city to sign the annual agreement with the transit service.
Purvez Irani, the city’s transportation manager, said in early 2022 there will be an expansion for the city’s conventional transportation system, with two buses added to the fleet.
Irani told council the custom transit system would also see an expansion, with BC Transit preparing a cost comparison between introducing additional handyDART buses or using taxi supplemental services to support the service expansion.
Taxi vouchers, providing a 50 per cent subsidy towards the cost of taxi rides, can be used by those with disabilities requiring accessible transit who are unable to use handyDART buses.
However, Hunter and Coun. Dale Bass raised concerns with the low number of accessible taxis and drivers available to assist passengers.
Hunter said she was confused as to why expansion plans include two conventional buses, but no new handyDART bus, although a motion had been previously passed by council that indicated one would be added at the next transit expansion.
“This impacts people’s lives from day to day and we just continue to offer the service to them and expand the service in a way that’s just not even feasible or viable,” Hunter said.
“This has been an ongoing problem, and that’s why I keep reiterating the importance of the expansion not being reliant on taxi savers.”
Bass said she was given information, confirmed by staff, that there are only two accessible taxis available in the city with nobody qualified to drive them.
Byron McCorkell, the city’s community and protective services director, said under licensing, taxi companies are required to have a wheelchair accessible vehicle.
“We have heard from them it’s sometimes a challenge for them to get drivers,” he said, adding the city’s Community Services division is having conversations with the companies through the to try and improve the situation.
“At this point, I can’t give you a definitive answer of what we’re able to do, but we’re aware of the situation and we’re trying to figure out how best to approach it.”
He said bylaws look at business license, cleanliness, and the age of the fleet, but taxis are licensed through the provincial transportation board.
“What we’ve tried to explain to them is that we need to see those wheelchair vans out there more often,” he said.
Coun. Bill Sarai brought forward a second motion for staff to look into creating a taxi commission in Kamloops so the city could have more “bite and authority” when dealing with such matters.
He said he wanted the city to determine what is good for our community, “not what Victoria tells them and how they apply for their licenses.”
Sarai’s motion was passed, with Hunter, Coun. Arjun Singh and Coun. Dieter Dudy opposed.
Hunter’s motion passed unanimously.
Irani said BC Transit would have the taxi saver and handyDART cost comparison report ready by the end of June. The report is expected to come before council in July.