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By Claire Lee

Photo Editor

Some of Toronto’s major taxi cab companies are breaking the law by overcharging people in wheelchairs. RyeAccess is working on a project to expose the issue.

The community service group has footage of cabs charging a flat rate for accessible vehicles, even though Toronto’s municipal code requires the charge to be based on the metered rate.

The project began when Donna Ryder, a RyeAccess employee, was overcharged by an accessible cab driver over the summer. The driver insisted she pay a flat rate of $34 for a five-minute ride. Ryder said he didn’t even turn his meter on.

“When I took the exact same route without a wheelchair about three years ago, I only had to pay $12 with the tip,” said Ryder.

Mark Dimuantes, Toronto’s municipal licensing and standards senior policy officer, said the city needs more complaints from the disabled community to solve this problem.

“They should give us a call and if they are willing to appear as a witness we will lay charges and bring them to court.”

Dimuantes said drivers charging flat rates could face severe penalties. “The fines can range up to $25,000 for an individual and $50,000 for a corporation,” said Dimuantes.

RyeAccess has video taped four taxi runs. One of them is a regular taxi ride and the rest are rides in accessible cabs from three different companies. Although all four runs took the same route from Ryerson’s Student Campus Centre to the northeast corner of Richmond and John, the price variation was huge.

“The regular taxi charged us $15 based on the metered rate but the accessible cabs charged us a flat rate of $35,” said Frank Nyitray, a RyeAccess coordinating team member.

None of the three accessible cabs had their meters on.

“The by-law very clearly states that they are required to turn their meters on and they were not following [the law],” said Nyitray.

Nyitray said no attempt was made to hide the camera while working on the project. “We had regular conversations [with the drivers] about school stuff and assignments. We just held the camera and didn’t try to hide anything.”

Andrew Whiteley, a spokesman for Beck Taxi, said it’s up to the city to enforce the by-laws if drivers are not obeying them.

“I’m not going to say what’s legal and what’s illegal,” said Whiteley. “I’m going to say that there are by-laws that regulate this industry. And it’s up to every individual driver to respect the by-laws.”

Ryder said some of the drivers used the high price of accessible vehicles to justify the extra, and oftentimes unstable, cost.

“They make it up as they go along,” she said. “Same with the fees. You call company A, you might get $32. You call company B, you might get $34. You call company C, you might get $56.”

RyeAccess submitted a summary of their findings to the RSU last Friday. While nothing has been decided, Gareth Henry, the RSU equity and campaign organizer who supervises the project, said awareness is one of the main goals.

“We are trying to engage other advocating groups who support people with disabilities,” said Henry. “We’d also like to give taxi industry an opportunity to voice their side of the story.”

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