Taxi drivers serving Montrealers with disabilities will be on strike from Friday to Monday, directly affecting the STM’s paratransit service.
Drivers are asking for higher compensation for rising fuel prices and the increased costs of buying a taxi vehicle as well as modifying it for customers with special needs.
The drivers aim to negotiate the contractual terms with the STM.
Between July 8 and 11, all new travel requests will be refused by the STM’s online paratransit reservation system, known as SIRTA, with “medical reasons” being the only exception.
Linda Gauthier, president of the organization RAPLIQ representing Quebecers with disabilities, said she was disappointed with the upcoming strike.
At least four of his friends and colleagues with disabilities must now find an alternative way to get to his birthday party in LaSalle this Saturday, with one of them resorting to wheelchair cycle paths.
“It is a major inconvenience for people with disabilities, we are hostages to this situation. But I also understand the concerns of the drivers, […] it should therefore be up to François Bonnardel to solve this problem as soon as possible, ”she said, referring to the Minister of Transport of Quebec.
The STM encourages disabled commuters to use regular transit this weekend, if possible. However, that won’t be an option for Gauthier because the metro stations closest to her home, Mont-Royal and Laurier, currently don’t have elevators.
Wanting to pay more for the trip, Gauthier attempted to schedule a trip directly with the Rosemont Van Adapté company, but was denied service due to the strike.
However, not all taxi drivers participate in this movement.
Rafik Essafi, driver of Rosemont Van Adapté, believes that better conditions and subsidies for adapted transport should indeed be negotiated with the government, but with less drastic measures.
“It is a mistake to hold vulnerable passengers hostage in this situation,” he said. “It’s a pretty wild way of negotiating, which will also damage our image as a taxi driver.”
Buying a new accessible taxi van now costs about $75,000 according to Essafi, who drives a paratransit vehicle himself. He estimates that around 50 drivers are taking part in the strike across the city.
“The cost of owning and operating has doubled in the past two years, but revenue has not kept pace [for the drivers]said Frédéric Prégent, president of Taxelco, a paratransit provider in Montreal.
Prégent added that while the company supports the drivers’ demands for their pay, the government should also be given some time to react and find an appropriate solution.
As for finding a compromise, the STM is “focused on mitigating the impact on customers for this weekend and [is] continue discussions with drivers to provide long-term solutions,” said Philippe Déry, the STM’s media relations manager.
Meanwhile Ian, a wheelchair user who asked to keep his surname anonymous for fear of being blacklisted by taxi services, has had to cancel his Sunday plans as he relies on paratransit for social occasions.
“Without access to paratransit services, individuals will feel isolated especially when the weather is nice outside compared to the winter months,” he said. While understanding the single medical exemption, Ian added that social and leisure outings are also important for the mental health of some people with disabilities.
As taxi drivers, the STM and the government work to reach an agreement, Gauthier warns that Montrealers with disabilities should expect delays from STM paratransit this weekend, since 88% of its vehicles accessible belong to private taxi companies.
With files from CTV Montreal’s Touria Izri