After nearly three years of struggle, Manitoba’s first accessible limousine is on the streets of Winnipeg.
"I guess it all started with me when I took a limo with a bunch of girls," Suzanne Jakeman, 50, told The Herald.
Suzanne has cerebral palsy. When she went out for a special evening with her friends, she assumed a limousine would be easier to accommodate her disability than a regular cab.
However, that was not the case.
"I was kind of surprised," she said. "You’d think the limo would be easier to get in than a regular car, but it wasn’t. I had to go on my hands and knees to get myself into the vehicle. The flooring of the vehicle was quite high."
After that evening, Suzanne’s husband Gary Jakeman, 58, got to thinking. Gary, who has been involved in the taxi cab industry for nearly 36 years, wondered why there weren’t any accessible limousines on the road in Winnipeg. Surely, as Suzanne’s case demonstrated, there was a need.
"There are 111 limousines in Winnipeg," Gary said, "And none of them are accessible. Why should a person, because of their disability, not be able to hire a limousine?"
In 2012, Gary applied to the Taxicab Board, the provincial regulatory body for the taxi industry, for a licence for an accessible limousine. He didn’t expect there to be much opposition.
"At the time the secretary of the Taxicab Board encouraged us to apply for it," he said.
But, as it turned out, the Jakemans were in for quite the ride.
"The board came back and decided that people with disabilities had enough accessible transportation and that they didn’t need a limo," Gary said, shaking his head. "I found that questionable."
While the Taxicab Board had rejected Jakeman’s application, they hadn’t given him a reason for the rejection in writing. Jakeman decided to take the matter to the Queen’s Bench for a judicial review. Shortly thereafter, the Public Interest Law Centre got involved.
"As members of the public, persons with disabilities are entitled to expect the same or comparable services to those available to able-bodied persons," Joelle Pastora Sala, the attorney who handled Jakeman’s case for the Public Interest Law Centre, told The Herald.
Jakeman, with Sala’s help, were able to gather over 400 signatures to a petition and numerous letters of support from the community, including an endorsement from the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities.
When the board finally provided Jakeman with its reasons for denying the application ("that people with disabilities had enough accessible transportation"), the court found those reasons inadequate.
And so, after nearly two and a half years, the Jakemans’ Sunshine Limousine Service, was finally granted the first and only licence for an accessible limousine in the province of Manitoba in August 2014.
"We’re very excited," Allen Mankewich, of the Manitoba League of Disabled Persons, said. "People with disabilities experience the same life events as everybody else. Prior to this, people with disabilities didn’t have a lot of options to go out for special events."
From the outside the limo, an MV1LX, looks like any other black luxury vehicle. The MV1LK, which has been on the road for a few weeks now, comes with a full bar and leather interior you’d would expect from a luxury vehicle.
Along with the retractable ramp for easy access, the MV1LK has room for four people and a wheelchair, or five people without the wheelchair, to comfortably enjoy their ride to a wedding, graduation, ride to the airport, or whatever event they may be attending.
"It was a long time waiting, that’s for sure," Suzanne said. "It’s time for change."
Currently, the Taxicab Board of Manitoba has 126 licensed accessible and handi-van vehicles operating in the City of Winnipeg. And now, thanks to the Jakemans, that includes one accessible limousine.
"The main idea is it’s for everybody, not just disabled people," Suzanne said.
You can find more information on Sunshine Limousine Service and their accessible limousine at www.sunshinetransit.ca or you can call 204-667-5332.
Community journalist — The Herald
Sheldon Birnie is the community journalist for The Herald Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7112