Sylvan Lake Town Council recently amended the Vehicle for Hire bylaw to make it easier to permit accessible taxis in Sylvan Lake.
Recently the Town has received numerous reports and complaints about the lack of accessible taxis in Sylvan Lake, and the bylaw which makes it illegal to hire a taxi from Red Deer.
According to Ron Lebsack, director of community services, the Town has received more complaints about this recently then any other topic in recent years.
“It is either a bigger issue now and of more concern, or it is something that has just come to the forefront for our residents,” said Lebsack. “I don’t think I’ve received as many calls about anything else as I have now.”
The amended bylaw will make it easier for taxi operators to work in Sylvan Lake with an accessible taxi for those who have limited mobility.
The Vehicle for Hire bylaw made it illegal for a Central Alberta company to operate in Sylvan Lake without having an operators licence and a business license. The newly amended bylaw would give other vehicle for hire businesses in Central Alberta with accessible vehicles the chance to work in Sylvan Lake by only purchasing a business license.
With the purchase of a business license in Sylvan Lake, an operator may be able to both pick up and drop off passengers from Sylvan Lake, even though they are a business from a different town.
“As long as the company has a business license you can have any accessible taxi operate in Sylvan Lake – even if they are from Red Deer,” said Lebsack.
Council took the unusual approach to give all three reading and pass the amendments in one session of Council, during the Oct. 9 meeting.
Lebsack suggested the three reading so the Town could take action on the subject sooner while also looking at further options to explore.
He calls the amendment to the bylaw a “temporary action” which will help for now.
“The amended bylaw will provide the service more easily in Town without a greater cost,” Lebsack said.
The previous Vehicle for Hire bylaw did allow for accessible taxis to operate in Town. The town has a total of 16 licences available for operators, four of which are specifically for accessible taxis.
Though the licences are available to the two current taxi companies working in Sylvan Lake, they have not been utilized.
“At this point no one has taken us up on the available accessible taxi licences.”
The two taxi companies operating in Sylvan Lake say it is because operating accessible taxi in Sylvan Lake is costly and isn’t feasible.
There are two other companies in Central Alberta who currently have accessible taxis in use. However, the new amendment opens the doors for potential independent operators.
Lebsack said if a local operator takes advantage of the new bylaw the out of town companies will be ineligible for the business license.
“We first want to have local businesses, but the amendment does open to other communities if no one comes forward,” said Lebsack.
Sylvan Lake Coun. Teresa Rilling said she was happy to see some solution as there are a number of residents she knows who were frustrated with the old bylaw.
“Many residents I know where having taxis come here illegally because they simply had no other options,” Rilling said.
She also raised the concern about the price. Generally a taxi ride from Sylvan Lake to Red Deer is around $50-60 one way.
For a resident on a fixed income that just isn’t realistic, Rilling said.
Sylvan Lake Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) does offer a Subsidized Taxi Card Program for “seniors, and adults with physical and mental challenges facing transportation barriers” and who also meet the annual income requirement.
According to Lebsack, the companies he spoke to with accessible taxis are willing to participate in the program to help Sylvan Lake resident get to where they need to go.
All taxis working in Sylvan Lake will still have to comply with the Vehicles for Hire bylaw, including the use of the “prescribed colour scheme.”