Tyler Barker is a 26-year-old Aurora, Ontario resident with cerebral palsy. Up until 18 months ago, Barker was also a college student. That’s all changed, however, as the transportation costs to get to and from school ($75 each way) became too much for his limited budget.
In Ontario, wheelchair accessible taxis often charge $30+ for a ride of 3km, an incredible upcharge to what able-bodied passengers pay. When Barker has questioned the rates, he’s been told they are, simply put, “industry standard”. Despite the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which says it’s illegal for conventional transportation services to charge higher rates to those with a disability, taxi companies aren’t budging on their current stance.
“That’s not a taxi. It’s not the same service,” Royal Taxi general manager Spiros Bastas said explaining that accessible transportation is a market captured locally by York Region Transit’s Mobility Plus, “There’s absolutely no demand,” he added.
Barker begs to differ. While he has access to a wheelchair van, he still relies heavily on Mobility Plus buses and taxi services, like Royal Taxi, to get around.
“My mom is not my chauffeur … Friends will help, but I want my own independence,” Barker explains.
Ontario’s regional council recently approved contracts which will go into effect August 5th, for the provision of Mobility Plus accessible mini-van and sedan services. Totaling more than $35 million over five years, the contracts include 39 sedans and 24 accessible mini-vans. However, there are no rear-loaders which for wheelchair riders like Barker, are necessary in order to fit in the vans.
Inspired by his own experience and those of others, Barker has now refocused his energy on becoming an accessibility advocate in his community since leaving school. He hopes to give a voice to others like him looking to enjoy simple freedoms without being discriminated against for having a wheelchair. He hopes contracts like those going into effect this weekend will start a wave of change and is committed to helping see the issue through.