TAXIS: AN OMNIPRESENT RESOURCE FOR
TRANSPORTING PEOPLE WITH REDUCED MOBILITY

By Michel Trudel
Departmental taxi coordinator
Ministère des Transports du Québec
35, rue de Port-Royal Est (2nd floor)
Montréal (Québec) H3L 3T1
Tel.: (514) 864-1637
Fax.: (514) 873-7389
ABSTRACT

Taxis, which are available everywhere and at all times, on request, constitute a versatile transportation resource able to provide a wide range of services adapted to the many needs of various clienteles. Moreover, in rural areas, they are often the only public carrier available. In Québec, the government is responsible for regulating transportation on its territory, including transportation by taxi. This centralization of powers has fostered the pooling of resources and contributed to a larger place for taxis in the overall system for the transportation of persons. The possibility taxi companies have of carrying out private contracts (unregulated rates) has also contributed to the growth of this tendency. In particular, it has given rise to taxi-sharing to serve sparsely populated areas; it has also promoted the inclusion of taxis in the transportation of handicapped people. Public, parapublic and private organizations are using taxis increasingly on a regular basis to meet the transportation needs of their members, beneficiaries or clients. In an effort to support this tendency, the ministère des Transports has carried out two major projects: one to demonstrate and assess vehicles adapted to the transportation of people with reduced mobility and another to train taxi drivers in particular in the transportation of handicapped people.

In a world bent on reducing distances, no one can hope to take his proper place and play a significant role in society unless he can make use of the various means of transportation. Yet there are many for whom, day after day, the use of an efficient means of transportation or transportation service proves difficult or impossible because of a physical, intellectual or other characteristic (lack of financial resources, geographical isolation, age, etc.); these are the people we describe as having reduced mobility. Québec's experience in the transportation of persons is primarily the result of a particular type of organization. The Québec government itself supervises and regulates most of the developments in transportation on its territory. Québec's taxi industry is thus regulated by a central government rather than local authorities, which is rather unusual in the western world. (Regional authorities are nonetheless invited to regulate certain aspects related to the quality of taxi services, but only the Montréal Urban Community has as yet taken advantage of this right.) In concrete terms, this means it is the ministère des Transports du Québec that, after consultation with the various partners in the industry, unites the municipal territories into "taxi conglomerations" and identifies the common characteristics of the services offered (number of permits, rates, ethics and various obligations...). The department also develops the policies and programs for mass transportation and adapted transportation. We believe it is because of this "enlightened centralism" that taxis in Québec are becoming a one of the best means of creating greater social equity in transportation services.

1. TAXIS À LA CARTE

It takes only three numbers to effectively account for the predominant role taxis have acquired in the transportation network: 24, 7 and 52. These numbers refer to that precious asset which is true mobility 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Whatever the weather, in town or in the country, taxis possess a flexibility that makes them a most effective means of transportation.

This concern for both increased availability and greater versatility in transportation resources led the Québec government to adopt the Act respecting transportation by taxi in 1983. At the core of the reform was a determination to develop new markets and recognition of the right of taxi companies to work on a contract basis. This innovation paved the way for a number of new experiments and gave rise to a range of novel services better adapted to the various needs of the general public and to the more specific needs of people with reduced mobility (MTQ, 1986).

Car-pooling This is a common arrangement that enables a group of workers living in the same area to offset the disadvantages of personal or mass transportation systems by using a single vehicle to get to work. This type of trip can be made by taxi. When applied to the reality of a rural environment, this practice of forming "affinity groups" adds noticeably to the general mobility of the population (Pelletier et al., 1985).

Shared transportation Although taxis have traditionally offered individual transportation services, they can also serve the needs of mass transportation. In this respect, they can fulfil three main purposes: 1. generally speaking, taxis can provide door-to-door service to a number of customers sharing part or all of the route and the cost; 2. in periurban areas, they can transport customers from sparsely populated sectors to traditional mass transportation routes; 3. in rural areas, they can transport passengers to the urban centre, either on call or according to a fixed schedule (Roy et al., 1987).

Personalized delivery To all intents and purposes, this is a door-to-door grocery delivery service. Rather than restricting themselves to traditional delivery services, a number of grocers have taken the novel step of hiring taxis to drive customers home with their groceries. The fare is fully or partially paid by the grocer. The elderly are the obvious beneficiaries of such an innovation (Pelletier et al., 1984).

Institutional transportation Old age homes, health establishments (hospitals, clinics, CLSCs--"local community service centers"), government departments and other institutions frequently, even automatically, turn to taxis to transport their beneficiaries. The ministère de la Main d'oeuvre, de la Formation professionnelle et de la Sécurité du revenu, in particular, reimburses the cab fares of social aid recipients who require transportation, for medical reasons, in a region where there are no mass transportation services.

An overview of the new ways of using taxis would be incomplete if it did not deal with the specific case of handicapped people. Indeed, it is in this area that efforts to integrate taxis into the transportation system have been most successful and for which we have the most information.

2. TRANSPORTATION: AN ESSENTIAL LINK

Québec's assent in 1978 to the Act to secure the handicapped in the exercise of their rights was a turning point. With this legislation, not only did the government reinforce a vague universal right to autonomy and mobility which a lack of resources could have rendered null and void, it also obliged public mass transit agencies to submit for approval a development plan in which their activities were extended to serve a clientele that had previously been left to its own resources. Communities that did not have a public transportation system were also encouraged to set up a paratransit service. To support its policy, the government created a subsidy program covering 75% of the cost of establishing and operating such services. The remaining 25% was to be shouldered by the local authorities (20%) and the beneficiaries.

The program set up grew steadily during the 1980s, the number of vehicles (minibuses) multiplying by 5, the number of users by 7 and the number of trips by 20, exceeding 2.5 million in 1991. There are no fewer than 89 paratransit services operating in Québec at present, serving half of Québec's municipalities and over 80% of its population.

A "heavy transportation" concept initially characterized the development of transportation for the handicapped in Québec. Paratransit services chose to invest in modified minibuses, which were suitable for the transportation of people unable to walk. There are many different types of impairment, however, which vary in both their gravity and their nature, so the means adopted to alleviate such impairments must be adapted to a wide range of possibilities. Failure to conform to this natural law of reciprocity cannot but result in poor service and, in addition, prohibitive operating costs. Paratransit managers have obviously worked hard to apply this principle, for the average annual cost of a trip has been dropping since 1981.

As will be seen, the fact that paratransit organizations have turned increasingly to taxi services for some of their trips has contributed to this phenomenon.

3. MINIBUSES VS TAXIS

In 1982, minibuses ceased to be the sole means of paratransit. Faced with a strike by its drivers, Transport adapté du Québec métropolitain was forced to turn to taxis to continue its services in the Québec City region. This decision was followed by another less spectacular but equally crucial step in 1983: the adoption by the Québec government of the Act respecting transportation by taxi, which gave taxi companies the right to make contracts with organizations responsible for adapted transportation. Foreseeing the possibility of conflicts, the legislature even guaranteed the permanence of the service, framing its commitment in unequivocal terms:

No collective agreement between a public body providing transport and its employees may restrict the power of the body to contract to provide a special transportation service by taxi for handicapped persons or to organize shared transportation by taxi.

An Act respecting transportation by taxi, section 123

The very next year, almost 25% of the paratransit organizations in Québec were using taxis. Today, about 67% are using them. Year after year, the proportion of trips by taxi grew, totalling in 1991 43% of all trips. In absolute terms, this represents over one million fares and $8 million for the taxi industry. In urban areas, taxis account for 60% of such trips, a figure that reaches 70% in Montréal. (The ministère des Transports, by the way, has developed a computer program called Trajet to help process requests for service from paratransit users, assign vehicles--minibus or taxi--and manage accounts. This program can easily be applied to shared transportation services on request.)

The fact that customers have switched from minibuses to taxis demonstrates the complementary nature of these two means of transportation. It is also the demonstration of the concrete application of a logic based on a number of major considerations such as cost, the number of vehicles, their availability, their versatility and their anonymity (see table next page).

The only disadvantages of taxis are found in the nature of the vehicle itself (difficulty in getting in and out, lack of space...) and the lack of training among drivers. Efforts are being made to correct these weaknesses, however, and day by day, such reservations are losing their justification.

Taxi-Minibus COMPARATIVE TABLE

MINIBUSES
TAXIS
The constitution and continued operation of a fleet of minibuses requires major investments by paratransit organizations, far beyond the purchase price of a minibus, which alone is expensive.
COST
Paratransit managers need not invest in taxis, either in terms of equipment or in terms of personnel. Experience has shown that the use of taxis reduces the average cost of a trip by about 30%; moreover, the purchase of a new minibus can be deferred.
There are about 200 adapted minibuses in use in Québec.
NUMBER OF
VEHICLES
There are 8000 taxis.
The typical minibus operates 52 weeks a year, 6 or 7 days a week during 75 hours a week.
AVAILABILITY
Taxis provide services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year (in urban centres, at least). The organizations that use taxis as a backup service offer considerably more hours of service (Parenteau, 1990).
-
VERSATILITY
The time it takes to get a reservation, and waiting periods, are much shorter, especially outside rush hours (from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday).
-
ANONYMITY OF
VEHICLES
Unlike minibuses, taxis do not automatically identify their passengers as handicapped people.

4. DRIVERS ADAPTED TO ADAPTED TRANSPORTATION

As mentioned above, the Québec government is responsible for regulating the entire taxi industry on its territory. It regulates not only the competence and integrity of the drivers but also the general condition of their vehicles.

Several years ago, the Québec government, resolutely on the side of the handicapped, established in its Transportation by Taxi Regulation the absolute obligation to respond to requests for service from handicapped people. It even underscored the taxi driver's obligation to assist any customer experiencing obvious difficulty in using the taxi.

A taxi driver shall assist a passenger to get in or out of his automobile safely when he observes that, by reason of age, handicap or evident state of health, the passenger needs such help.

Transportation by Taxi Regulation, section 39

The efforts made by the government to promote the rights of handicapped people are not limited to legislative measures. The government is also involved in awareness initiatives. The ministère des Transports du Québec has produced a folder on transportation by taxi of the visually impaired accompanied by a leader dog, a publication designed to remind taxi drivers of their obligations in this area. These folders, published in Braille, were initially distributed to the visually impaired, who were invited to give a copy to the drivers who picked them up. (There is an anecdote according to which, during one outing, a visually impaired person and the taxi driver consulted the brochure together, each in his own way...) These folders were then sent out in large quantities to all the taxi companies in Québec; as a final step, they will be sent directly to all taxi drivers.

The most important element in the program to make taxi drivers aware of what handicapped people have to deal with nevertheless remains the Training Course on Transporting Disabled Persons by Taxi. This course, which was developed by the Centre de formation professionnelle pour l'industrie du taxi du Québec, and which lasts seven hours, received the massive support of the partners in the industry as well as technical and financial support from Québec and the federal government. The ministère des Transports du Québec is even planning to include the course in the vocational training program it intends to make a prerequisite before long to obtaining a taxi driver's permit.

5. ...AND ADAPTED TAXIS

While the Québec government has chosen to rely above all on professional competence and a new mentality to ensure the place of taxis in the transportation of handicapped people, it has not neglected the development of new equipment. The federal government and Québec have together invested $575 000 in the implementation in Québec in 1990 and 1991 of a project to demonstrate six adapted taxis. The experimental vehicles should be able to respond to the needs of the three main types of clientele: handicapped people who are able to walk, handicapped people who are unable to walk (including those confined to an electric wheelchair, which is heavier and bulkier than regular wheelchairs and cannot be folded) and regular customers, who will always be the most numerous. Four of the six vehicles tested are being used in urban areas, the two others in semi-urban and rural areas. Three different designs are being studied. Five of the vehicles are modified minivans with raised roofs and lowered floors. The GSM taxi, built in Québec, is characterized by its overall concept which is the prototype of the taxi of the future--practical, robust and versatile. This project to demonstrate adapted taxis is designed to determine the ergonomic and mechanical qualities of the vehicles tested in view of the requirements of customer service. It goes without saying that it is also intended to demonstrate the economic advantages for all parties (the department, public organizations, taxi companies, drivers and customers) of the introduction and proliferation of this type of vehicle in the taxi fleet. The results of this experiment should be available by the spring of 1992.

CONCLUSION

A number of experiments tend to show that it is possible to use taxis to provide adequate transportation services at a reasonable cost for people whose mobility would otherwise be reduced. It is not possible to achieve this, however, if the parties involved do not agree from the outset to consult each other with a view to integrating existing resources. By turning to taxis, an independent transportation resource already available in the community, local transportation managers will be better able to ensure real access to an essential service, transportation, for the greatest number of people. They will thus be in a position to improve the quality of life of their fellow citizens without falling into the trap of having to create an infrastructure that is often too big and too expensive.

REFERENCES

1. Ministère des Transports du Québec, La diversité des services de taxi, Direction des communications, DGTTP - MTQ, 1986, 12 pp.

2. Parenteau, Yvon, Bilan de l'utilisation du taxi dans le transport adapté, Proceedings of the conference entitled La place du taxi dans le transport des personnes, ministère des Transports du Québec, Direction des communications, Montréal, 1990, pp. 25-53.

3. Pelletier, Jean-Guy, Michel Trudel, Taxidac - L'utilisation des services de taxi dans la mise en marché des artères commerciales; annexe 2 - L'épicerie porte à porte, "Planifions l'avenir" - Colloque des détaillants des petites et moyennes surfaces en alimentation, ministère des Transports du Québec, Direction de la recherche, Montréal, 1984, pp. 19-24.

4. Pelletier, Jean-Guy, Guy Rouleau, Michel Trudel, Les possibilités de covoiturage par taxi au Québec, International Commuter Transportation Conference, Toronto, 1985, 19 pp.

5. Roy, Erwin, Michel Trudel, Utilisation du taxi à des fins de transport collectif, Routes et transport, Montréal, fall 1990, pp. 34-40.


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