Taxi industry steps in to fill the breach after City fails to provide wheelchair accessible vehicle driver training
by Mike Beggs
Training for wheelchair accessible taxi drivers in Toronto has been non-existent since the passing of the Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw in April of 2016.
But now Centennial College, in partnership with the Spinal Cord Society of Ontario has stepped up to fill the gap, offering a two-day Accessible Driver Training Course. (Editor’s note: While this story was being prepared, Scarborough City Cab announced it will also be offering an accessible vehicle training program. Co-op Cabs is also reportedly offering training but it remains unclear whether all of the independently offered training options will be recognized by MLS for the necessary endorsements. For more on this confused state of affairs see this month’s Duffy’s Domain. The Scarborough City announcement appears in this month’s letters to the editor section, on page 6.)
This course is being offered with the knowledge that in Toronto all drivers must have an “accessible endorsement” on their VFH license, as a licensing requirement to operate a wheelchair accessible vehicle. To obtain this endorsement, service providers must complete a training course focusing on the development of knowledge, skills, and ability in serving the accessible community.
“Basically, once you get certified from our course, you go to Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards. The City has approved us as a provider,” says Janna Erichsen, Centennial’s Chair, Part-time Learning, School of Transportation.
“(The City) hasn’t been doing any training to get your endorsement for 18 months.”
This program came about at the impetus of Beck Taxi, which is already offering a five-day Taxi Driver Training course at Centennial (which some 500 drivers have passed through over the past 1.5 years). Beck operations manager Kristine Hubbard thought accessible driver training was “essential” given the rapidly aging population demographic and the dictates of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and so she arranged a meeting with representatives from Centennial and the Spinal Cord Society.
“Something had to happen. And we’re not qualified to do that training,” she tells Taxi News.
“Now this wheelchair accessible training is being offered at an accredited college in Toronto. I feel confident these drivers are ready to do the work.”
At a cost of $250, the course educates the learner on disability awareness, the legal requirements of transporting those with disabilities and practical training on the proper methods to assist passengers with various disabilities as well as wheelchair securement.
“We decided to partner with the Spinal Cord Society of Ontario on the curriculum,” Erichsen explains. “It’s really specific to the disabled community. Our instructors, they all have lived experience -- they have a disability themselves.”
The course offers a lot of hands-on training.
“We teach you how to properly secure a wheelchair in the vehicle,” she adds.
“We actually have the passenger in the wheelchair, and you do it hands-on. So, you feel really comfortable when you get your first customer in.”
Provided they pass a written exam, this course allows students to meet the standards for an “Accessible endorsement” on their VFH license.
However, while the City has a waiting list of some 200 people looking to get their endorsement, the MLS is not sending them to this course.
“We did all this work to create the curriculum. I called them last week, and they were not endorsing people on the waiting list,” she relates.
“Right now, one of the big problems is the City has these cars you’d like to have on the road 24x7. Who has the endorsement to drive them?”
Hubbard points out that, after shelving its driver training school the MLS initially said it would approve outside courses, before this recent about-face.
“Something had to be done,” she says of the Centennial program. “The same office that mandated people to buy these (expensive) vehicles wasn’t training them. Maybe there’s something in the future.”
Of the 550 TTL vehicles on the road, only the 100 with Beck are dedicated to doing on-demand wheelchair accessible work -- with the company paying them a $10 subsidy per run.
“We’re proud to be able to offer this needed service,” Hubbard says. “Where are the other 450? They’re doing pickups on the street, and not doing accessible work. They’re just working as standard taxis.”
“Frankly, there are hard feelings toward the City on how this went down. They just threw them out there. Those guys are not (happy) about it.”
For more information about Centennial College’s Accessible Vehicle Training course, call (416) 289-5207.