Burlington senior with few options after cab company reduces fleet

·3 min read

A 94-year-old Burlington woman is finding herself with few transportation options after the local taxi service reduced the number of cars on the road.

Rita Kennedy, a Second World War veteran who uses a walker, used to get around Burlington by taxi. But since the pandemic, Burlington Taxi reduced most of its fleet to minivans, which Kennedy can’t ride.

“You imagine a short little old lady with her feet on the ground trying to slide in backwards to get to the seat in the cab,” she said. “I have to do it by sliding backwards and swerving sideways to get onto the seat.”

The smaller cars have seats right next to the door, but the minivans have their passenger seats closer to the middle.

“My legs aren’t long enough to reach that far,” she said. On a recent trip, Kennedy had trouble getting in, so the driver — who “was as frustrated as I was” — tried to help her in through the door on the other side where the seat was slightly closer.

“It was extremely difficult, but I did reach the edge of the seat,” she said. But “after all that hard work, I couldn’t slide onto it because it’s covered with a plush fabric. It’s not slippery.”

Passengers are not allowed in the front passenger seat during COVID-19, said Chris Belec, Burlington Taxi’s general manager.

Burlington Taxi has about 50 vehicles in total, but has been running only 22 since March, said Belec. Aside from two sedans, the cabs are all minivans to accommodate the company’s biggest contractor, Canada Post, whose letter carriers the company transports to and from routes.

Belec said the company doesn’t have enough business to run more of the sedans.

“When the lockdown started, basically the only thing that kept us operational was the letter carrier contract,” he said.

The company has gone from 1,000 trips per day to 200 during the pandemic. Of those, 120 trips are for letter carriers.

“We do understand that we do have some seniors that on occasion have called and they want the car,” he said, noting that the sedan may be occupied at the time or the driver not on duty. “We try to help them, but sometimes we tell them, ‘We can’t send it immediately, you might have to wait.’”

He said those waits could be up to an hour.

There are no accessible vehicles on the road either, because insurance companies have hiked costs in the pandemic, Belec added.

“We’re all between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

That leaves Kennedy with few options since Burlington Taxi is the main taxi company in the city. Kennedy tried Gem Taxi but learned she’d have to wait because they only have two cabs on the road in the pandemic.

She can’t use Uber because she doesn’t have a cellphone. Other private services are either too costly or the wait times too long, she says, noting she wouldn’t be able to wait for a medical appointment.

Asked about other options, the Burlington city manager’s office pointed to public transit.

Transit vehicles “are fully accessible including flat floors, front door ramps and the ability to kneel to down to the curb,” said communications adviser Jeff Crowder in an email.

The city also offers a door-to-door transit option, Handi-Van, for people with disabilities who can’t ride a regular bus. Riders can book trips online or by phone up to two weeks in advance.

“We do offer same-day bookings, however they are subject to availability,” Crowder added. “Due to COVID we are limiting capacity on our vehicles. So we do recommend pre-booking.”

Both transit options are free for seniors from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator