July 7, 2018 2:27 pm
Updated: July 7, 2018 2:33 pm

Coquitlam senior who waited hours for wheelchair-accessible cab gets apology from Bel-Air Taxi

WATCH: After a well-known wheelchair bound senior waited three hours for a cab in the rain on Canada Day, Coquitlam's mayor has met with Bel-Air Taxi to determine what went wrong and what needs fixing. Kristen Robinson reports.

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Days after she went public about her Canada Day cab fail, Coquitlam senior Merle Smith got an apology from Bel-Air Taxi.

That phone call was followed by a personal visit to her home from company manager Sean Bowden.

Still, Smith says the words mean nothing. She wants action to change what she believes is a broken system.

“I think it’s about time that there is a real overhaul of the system,” she told Global News.

Paralyzed from the chest down since a hiking accident at age 14, Smith has been in a wheelchair most of her life. A longtime advocate for people living with disabilities, the senior once fought for taxi companies to get licences for wheelchair-accessible cabs.

WATCH: Strong reaction to story of senior stranded by taxi


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That fight was renewed on July 1, when she and her sister were left stranded in the rain at the Canada Day fireworks. Smith called Bel-Air Taxi just before 9 p.m. and was told an accessible cab would arrive in 15 to 20 minutes. It never showed. She and her sister tried to get through to dispatch before a cab finally showed up just after midnight.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart was one of several people who helped keep Smith warm during the excruciating three-hour wait.

Stewart is now putting the heat on Bel-Air Taxi. On Wednesday, he met with the company’s president, Sohan Mehat, manager Sean Bowden, and two other representatives.

READ MORE: Ride refusal: Jillian Harris says cab driver denied her a trip from Port Moody to downtown Vancouver 

“The first thing out of their mouths was, ‘This was not us,'” Stewart said. “This was wrong and it was an egregious error and we’ve got to find out why it happened.”

Stewart said Bel-Air Taxi told him a dispatcher shift change occurred after the original call came in. The call was assigned to a driver but somehow got lost in the shuffle. The mayor is calling for the company to find a fix and establish a backdoor phone system so calls from priority passengers like Smith, get through to dispatch.

WATCH: Senior with disability waits hours for a taxi

“They’re going to have to up their game. I heard a commitment to do that and I’m hopeful. I won’t say optimistic but I’m hopeful.”

Bel-Air did not respond to calls or emails from Global News on Wednesday. At the company’s Coquitlam taxi yard, one driver said the Canada Day cab fail was a “one-off” and that “sometimes, it happens.”

The driver, who operates one of Bel-Air Taxi’s 19 wheelchair-accessible cabs, told Global News that employees do not discriminate against people with accessibility issues.

“Not at all. We have no problem with it at all,” he said.

But Smith is not convinced.

“From my own experience, it’s not a one-off,” she said.

Smith said accessible cabs are often used to pick up large groups or passengers with luggage, or even parked because they’re more expensive to run. She’s hoping the Passenger Transportation Branch probe of her cab catastrophe will ensure all taxi licences are being used appropriately.

“If they’re going to commit 15 per cent of their cabs being wheelchair-accessible, they have to do that they can’t just say it…because I feel that the rules are being broken.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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