Being wheelchair-bound will soon not prevent Winnipeggers from riding in style in a stretch limousine.
That’s because Gary Jakeman’s Winnipeg company, Sunshine Limo Service, is about to take receipt of the very first MV-1 stretch limo in Canada.
MV-1s are the big, boxy taxicabs that first hit the streets in Winnipeg in 2012. They are the only vehicles on the road that are purpose-built to carry passengers in wheelchairs.
In 2012, Jakeman ran Dignity Transportation, the company responsible for the first MV-1 vehicles in Winnipeg, which were also among the first on the road in Canada. There are currently about 600 in the country.
He then struck out on his own and for two years has been running a regular-sized MV-1 limo. The stretch version is 48 inches longer and includes a bar, stereo sound system, ceiling lights and other traditional limo amenities.
In May, Sunshine also acquired a Dodge Ram ProMaster van, but Jakeman is a big fan of the MV-1 and knew there was a demand for this specialized stretch limo service in Winnipeg.
"It took me two years to get my first wheelchair-accessible limo licence. But this time it was a little easier," he said.
Jakeman said his first wheelchair limo licence application was denied because he was told people with disabilities have enough transportation already and do not need a limo. He appealed that ruling to the Court of Queen’s Bench, claiming that was discriminatory, and won.
The city’s two largest taxi companies, Unicity and Duffy’s, routinely oppose many new licences, but Jakeman said they backed off this time because of the unique nature of the stretch MV-1.
It will be able to transport two people in wheelchairs and possibly up to seven ambulatory people. His regular-sized MV-1 limo can only carry one wheelchair and three other passengers.
He believes his $125,000 investment will be a good one.
"We have more than 700 calls already for the limo," he said. "It gives everyone a feel for what it is like to ride in a limo."
Riding in style for the wheelchair-bound has already been a big hit and his regular-sized version was getting booked up solid.
"We drove Rick Hansen around for three days not that long ago when he was in town for We Day, and a lady from the U.S. state department booked the limo for three days," he said. "When you start booking it in and blocking it off, people are phoning and we can’t service our other clients. That’s why we decided to go with the second, stretch model."
Peter Grande, president of MV-1 Canada, said the company has built a couple of stretch versions that are undergoing durability testing and getting some of the minor bugs out of the system, as would be the case for any prototype.
"When Gary takes delivery, he will have the first one in Canada," Grande said. "And when he gets it in the road and people see it, I think they’re going to be calling him like crazy."
MV-1s have been in production since 2011 and the company that produces them is owned by AM General, a contract manufacturer based in Mishawaka, Ind.
Grande said the beauty of the MV-1 is that it is designed for wheelchairs, with every one of them coming out of the factory with a ramp.
"When Chrysler or Honda or Toyota build a minivan, they do not build it for the purpose of having a ramp in it and having a wheelchair in it," Grande said. "The MV-1 is a universal design. It is a concept build from the beginning."
He said it has changed the lives of many disabled people. He said one family recently had one in for servicing that had been driven 40,000 kilometres in one year.
"They now have the confidence that they can drive to Florida and get their vehicle serviced across the country," Grande said.