'More freedom': Accessible taxi service hits the road

Bean Gill knows hailing a cab can be a demoralizing experience for people with physical disabilities.

The first time she tried using a conventional cab after starting to use a wheelchair she was rejected outright.

"I was at a concert, looking to go to a club afterward with my sisters and my friends, and no cab would take me," said Gill, who got sudden paralysis in her legs in 2012 after a transverse myelitis infection damaged her spine.

"They didn't even have to touch my wheelchair, but every single one said that I was a liability and I had to wait for a wheelchair van."

Stories like Gill's have inspired the creation of a new rideshare service in Edmonton. Pi Live has put a new fleet of wheelchair-accessible cabs on city streets.

'A team that accepts all people'

"We're similar to other providers but we have a bit of extra experience on board because I myself have a disability so I'm aware of the issues," said company spokesperson Zachary Weeks in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Weeks, who was born with cerebral palsy and relies on a power wheelchair, made headlines in November 2014 after his attempts to access handicap parking at West Edmonton Mall were blocked by a mountain of snow.

"My role is to ensure that the drivers are properly trained and have that extra sensitivity, because the issues that are being faced should not exist. It's 2017," Weeks said.

"We want to make sure that we have the best team available, a team that accepts all people no matter what the situation."

Much like Uber or TappCar, Pi Live is a private transportation company that operates around the clock, seven days a week.

The company promises to get customers to their destinations within 20 minutes, at $1 per kilometre. Pi Live donates $1 from every fare to groups that represent people with disabilities. Weeks describes that as a "win-win."

'Transportation shouldn't be an issue'

Drivers get extra sensitivity training and customers don't have to wait to hail a ride.

Pi Live is filling a need, Weeks said, because there are a limited number of wheelchair-accessible taxi vans in the city, and fares usually have to be booked hours in advance. Other accessible transportation services usually run on very limited schedules, he said.

"There is quite a challenge in terms of waiting for a cab," said Weeks. "You're often sitting there for God knows how long and sometimes they don't even show up.

"For people that want to be on the go, young professionals such as Bean and myself, we need more flexibility to go out and get the job done."

The company, which started its service last month, is hoping to expand its current fleet of five vehicles and launch a smartphone app for more convenient service.

Gill has already hailed a few rides, and said being to get a ride anywhere, anytime has made her feel less isolated.

"Transportation shouldn't be an issue for anyone, let alone somebody with a wheelchair or a disability," Gill said. "This service is going to be really excellent for people to be more out and about and have more freedom."