In the past year, Newfound Cabs has begun offering accessible services, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Newfound has taken advantage of tenders from both the Provincial Government and the City of St. John’s to modify eleven vehicles and obtain accessible licenses for several of their drivers.
“The owner of Newfound Cabs has really been a champion in terms of making sure that accessible cabs are available in the city,” Said Emily Christy, Executive Director of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities of Newfoundland and Labrador.
In addition to making sure that their vehicles are accessible, Newfound cabs provides everyone in their company with training from a number of organizations including St. John’s Ambulance First Aid, Inclusive Customer Service Training from the Coalition For Persons With Disabilities of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as sensitivity training from the National Institute For the Blind and the Hard of Hearing Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Training from the Coalition For Persons With Disabilities of NL covers proper etiquette, like how to approach asking a customer about proper service delivery. It also addresses regulations having to do with manufacturing standards for equipment inside accessible cabs and how to use that equipment. For example, making sure proper restraints are used for mobility devices.
Derek Haytor, a representative of Newfound Cabs says he believes this training has been incredibly effective and that the company has been receiving lots of positive feedback about their accessible services.
The Coalition For Persons With Disabilities of NL gave Newfound Cabs an Inclusion Award at the organization’s Annual General Meeting this past June.
Christy says that while having accessible taxis available 24 hours a day is an important step forward, there is a lot more work to be done to make transit in St. John’s accessible.
“For us it’s about autonomy and having access to services in an equitable way. Being able to go from point a to point b whenever you want to, which anyone else can do, is what we’re striving for in terms of inclusion and access,” Christy said.
While taxis are excellent for giving persons with disabilities more flexibility in planning their days, cabs are expensive. GoBus, the city’s para-transit system, must be booked twenty-four hours in advance.
Christy explained this can be a problem, “…if you need to go get groceries or you want to attend an event you only heard about a few hours ago, having that flexibility in the planning of your life is something that we’re hoping will become possible with our public transit system.”
Many of Metrobus’ vehicles have accessible features, like drop-down ramps that make it easier for people with mobility issues to get on and off the bus, but lots of the city’s bus stops are not accessible. This means that persons with disabilities aren’t able to use many of the city’s bus routes.
Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth says the city recognizes this is a problem and will be putting two million dollars towards creating more accessible public transit in the coming years.
“Obviously it’s useless to have accessible buses without accessible stops. We’re hoping to purchase more buses that are wheelchair accessible and to convert more bus stops into accessible stops,” Ellsworth said.
Snow clearing is another issue which affects access to transit for persons with disabilities. Despite two years of protests about insufficient snow-clearing in St. John’s, the most recent city budget reduced snow clearing even further.
“People are being pushed into the road, which is a major safety concern for everyone, a concern that is heightened for people with mobility issues,” Christy said.
Christy says that not all the changes needed to make the city more accessible for persons with disabilities are infrastructural ones. As a community, we need to acknowledge that there are barriers that sometimes make it challenging for people with disabilities to participate in our community. We need make reducing those challenges a priority.