Gary Jakeman hasn't driven a cab for eight years. But the former cabbie, who now runs Dignity Transportation, is having lots of fun on the streets doing some inaugural runs with his company's new fleet of five MV-1 accessible taxis.
"It's fun to drive. People turn their heads to look at it. Some want to have their picture taken with it," Jakeman said.
The new MV-1s, which look like tall, oversized station wagons, represent the city's first new taxi licences in many years and are among the first MV-1s in Canada that are in their first model year.
Jakeman likes the look and handling of the MV-1s but people who get around in wheelchairs are even more excited.
The MV-1 is the only purpose-built vehicle on the road for transportation of people in wheelchairs and will be a welcome option for the disabled.
Terry McIntosh, an independent living consultant at the Independent Living Resource Centre, said five years ago it was easier to get an accessible cab. That will change.
"There is definitely a need for this kind of vehicle," McIntosh said. "They will be kept busy."
Dignity Transportation, a Winnipeg-owned company that currently operates 10 vans and five cars for Handi-Transit, will charge standard taxi rates. Company officials said they will service demand from typical Handi-Transit users who need rides outside their pre-booked times.
In addition to the unusual look of the MV-1 vehicles -- which are large enough to carry two people in wheelchairs and four other passengers -- Dignity Transportation cars will also be the first taxis in Winnipeg with equipment to allow patrons to pay with debit cards.
Joan Wilson, secretary of the Manitoba Taxicab Board, said while there was opposition to Dignity's application from Unicity and Duffy's Taxi, the company presented a very good business case.
"We have high hopes for the company," she said. "We know it's hard for disabled people to find affordable transport, especially late at night. It will really serve a lot of people."
While both Unicity and Duffy's have regular-priced accessible vehicles, it depends on who you talk to as to exactly how many.
Regardless of how many there really are -- spokespeople for Unicity and Duffy's were not available -- Jakeman and advocates for the disabled community say there are not enough.
There are also private companies with wheelchair vans, but they charge a premium price -- about $15 at the start of the trip compared to the $3.60 Dignity and standard taxi's charge.
"People in wheelchairs should not have to pay more than you or I," Jakeman said.
Verander Gill, the owner of the company, who also owns Able-Atlantic Taxi and Bee Line Taxi in Toronto, said: "This is the future (for the wheelchair accessible business)."
Gill said the company applied for 10 licences but was issued five. He said he plans to keep track of all the call logs and go back to the board after a year for additional licences because he's certain there is demand out there for more than five cars.
Incumbent taxi companies in Winnipeg aggressively oppose any new licence applications, in part to protect the resale value of Winnipeg taxi licences, which have recently sold for as much as $500,000.
Dignity's five new licences, which are non-transferable and non-saleable, cost $100 each.
Designed by Florida-based Vehicle Production Group and manufactured by AM General, a world leader in military and special purpose vehicles in Mishawaka, Ind.
Features a larger side entryway and access ramp (available in manual or automatic) with a 1,200-pound weight capacity.
Runs on a Ford 4.6L, V8 engine available with either a traditional gasoline engine or a CNG fuelling system.
Has more than 190 cubic feet of interior volume, seating up to six people comfortably including two wheelchairs.