Winnipeggers with mobility issues or physical disabilities now have a new, more convenient way of getting around.
Dignity Taxi, a new branch of Weston-based Dignity Transportation, recently rolled out a fleet of new vehicles designed to make it easier for those individuals to get where they need to go.
The MV-1 model taxis are designed to be universally accessible for all passengers. Each of the SUV-style vehicles features a deployable ramp to make it accessible to wheelchair users. They are large enough inside to comfortably seat a driver and four passengers in addition to a wheelchair passenger.
Dignity Transportation applied to the Manitoba Taxicab Board for 10 new taxi licenses, but ended up receiving five.
Dignity was founded eight years ago to provide Handi-Transit services for the City of Winnipeg. Unlike Handi-Transit, Dignity Taxi operates like any other cab company and advance bookings are not required. Fares are based on standard taxicab fees and start at around $3.50.
Gary Jakeman, operations manager for Dignity Transportation, said the service is "long overdue" in Winnipeg.
"With an aging population, and mobility issues, it’s easier for somebody using a walker who has to go out. They don’t have to struggle to get into a small taxi. There’s plenty of room for luggage and bags," he said.
The new vehicles have been on the road for a couple of weeks and Jakeman said reaction has been largely positive.
"I like everyone turning their heads and looking at it, wondering ‘What the heck’ and people taking pictures of me while I’m driving down the street. It’s been fun," he said.
Jakeman said the vehicles are "universal" since anybody can use them, although some groups may benefit more than others.
Pam McConnell, co-ordinator for the Point-Douglas based Transportation Options Network for Seniors, or TONS, said the arrival of the new taxis is great news. The network had approached the taxi board in the past for such a service but had no success, she said.
"Not everyone is eligible for Handi-Transit, but you still may want that door-to-door service, so this is good news. It gives more options for sure," she said.
McConnell said the need for accessible transportation will increase as the local population ages, but is hopeful the new taxi service will be able to meet the demand.
She said the network has also been pleased with ongoing discussions it has had with Winnipeg Transit on the issue of accessibility.
"They’ve certainly sought our opinion, and so we’re very pleased with how things are shaping up," McConnell said.
"There’s no question people are beginning to look at the population and the bubble they’re going to be faced with."
Jakeman expanding his fleet of accessible taxis will depend on public response.
"If the response is overwhelming, we can apply to the taxicab board and apply for five more," he said.