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Vancouver Taxi Association Announces "Ask, Listen and Act" Training Program to assist seniors and people with disabilities

During the past two years, Access for Sight Impaired Consumers and CNIB have joined collaboratively with the Vancouver Taxi Association (VTA), the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities and other community organizations to develop a specialized training curriculum which would provide taxi drivers with a better understanding of how to assist seniors and passengers with various disabilities. On January 29th, the VTA officially announced this program to the media during a presentation at Vancouver city hall. Following is the Vancouver Sun's account of the announcement:

New program will train Vancouver taxi drivers to help disabled passengers

Six-hour course will be mandatory for all 3,000 of the city’s cabbies

By Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun January 29, 2014

Mayor Gregor Robertson announces the new taxi driver training program for customers with disabilities, called "Ask-Listen-Act" at City Hall in Vancouver Wednesday.

For most people, riding in a taxi is as simple as getting in, buckling up and giving the driver an address. But for people with disabilities, who use wheelchairs or who are elderly and use canes or walkers, taxis can sometimes be dangerous places.

Tim Louis knows all about that. Several years ago the former Vancouver city councillor, who uses a wheelchair, suffered a broken ankle when a taxi driver stopped suddenly and his improperly-fastened wheelchair shot forward. “I ended up in emergency, and it was very painful. It really was a major problem for me, because I now have to pay someone to travel with me to make sure I am properly tied down inside the taxi,” he said Wednesday.

However, a new initiative between the Vancouver Taxi Association, the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities and the City of Vancouver may change things. The agreement is for a course to train drivers in how to take care of people with disabilities and seniors who use walking aids.

The program, nearly two years in the making, was unveiled at City Hall and will require every one of the nearly 3,000 drivers working for the four licensed taxi companies in Vancouver to take a six-hour course.

The course was first conceived in April 2012 after the coalition, which represents thousands of people with disabilities, became concerned drivers were not trained in the art of carefully dealing with people who need assistance, BCCPD executive director Jane Dyson said Wednesday. In some rare cases, people have been injured when their wheelchairs have rolled or tipped, or people with walkers or canes have fallen while getting into or out of cabs. “This all started because we noticed that people were not being trained in the appropriate method for tying down wheelchairs,” Dyson said. “We have had some cases where people have suffered injuries. It has been a concern for years.”

Carolyn Bauer, the president of the taxi association that represents the four Vancouver cab companies — Yellow, Blacktop/Checker, MacLures and Vancouver Taxi — said while drivers try to care for their passengers, many do not know the proper procedures for tying down wheelchairs or how to give assistance to people who are blind, deaf or use walking aids. “This is the first training program of its kind in Canada,” Bauer said. “We went to the BC Coalition of Persons with Disabilities to explain to them that we recognize we were having a concern of some of our drivers not receiving proper training on tie-downs.”

The coalition and the association together wrote a training manual and produced a video that will be made available to all of the companies. While Toronto and Winnipeg insist taxi drivers get training on how to transport people with disabilities, Vancouver’s is the first in the country that uses a video and manual incorporating advice from seniors and people with disabilities, Dyson said.

The city’s seniors and disability advisory committees were consulted and gave a lot of advice on what should be in the program, Mayor Gregor Robertson said. The city’s taxi cab licensing department also participated. “This is a big step for us and will make a real difference in the lives of thousands of our residents” he said.

Jill Weiss, the chairwoman of the city’s disability advisory committee, said the taxi association enlisted the help of the committee and its members in drafting the manual. “They listened to what our concerns are,” she said. “They came to every one of our meetings and it was clear they want to train their drivers properly.”

Bauer said training starts on February 3 with new drivers. She expects all cab drivers will be trained within six months. The course is free, but mandatory.

Louis said the new course is an encouraging sign. “I think the new training program is a very positive step forward. Any time an industry works with the disability community in partnership, in and of itself, that is a big step forward.” However, Louis doesn’t know if the program will eliminate the problems people have encountered. “Time will tell the degree to which this will work. I am certain it will reduce injuries, but I am not certain it will eliminate them.”

The push for better training comes as both TransLink, seniors and the disabled increasingly rely on taxis to provide transport. In April, 2013 TransLink cut 9,500 HandyDart service hours, or about two per cent of its service, from unproductive runs and began a pilot taxi program to carry passengers affected by the decision. It expected to provide about 7,000 more taxi trips between April and December.

Dyson said there has been a growth in the number of people using taxis as an alternate to HandyDart. Several years ago TransLink also tried to cancel its TaxiSaver subsidized coupon service for people with disabilities, but backed down in the face of a public backlash. “More and more seniors are going to use taxis, so it is important that drivers know how to handle these customers,” she said.


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