A new wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) on-demand booking method is now available in Winnipeg.

On January 21, 2022, the City of Winnipeg Council permitted a project that would focus on improving wheelchair-accessible transportation in the city.

The Winnipeg WAV Pilot creates a single pathway for those who wish to book accessible transportation. 

Grant Heather, Manager of Vehicles for Hire for the City of Winnipeg, says, "We saw this as a way to create that single access point, whether it's a phone number, website or use of a smartphone app. Put technology in the hands of the smaller users and be able to better connect them with the people out there who need the service."

The project hopes to cut vehicle wait times by half the amount, with current wait times for wheelchair-accessible transportation reaching 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Meanwhile, regular taxi vehicles only take up to 15 to 20 minutes.

"Frankly, transportation is a human right and everybody should be able to access transportation at about the same time frame and experience that everybody has," Heather says.

The Winnipeg WAV pilot has 130 accessible taxis and another 30 accessible personal transportation providers. The personal transportation providers are not equipped with a metre, carry different safety equipment and possess different rules than the taxis.

The project already has roughly half of its taxis assigned and they are still accepting driver and vehicle applications.

"We have about, of those 130 taxis, right now we have about 50 per cent have been signed up, gone through the approval process and are ready out there available to provide service."

Vehicles for Hire are offering a financial incentive for those who sign up to be part of the project. With drivers receiving up to $2,250 per year and vehicle owners receiving up to $2,500 per year, it depends on ratings from customers, the number of trips, and other factors.

Service users are still expected to pay the metre or the calculated fare for the trip, but this service hopes to cut down on the wait time. 

"Way back in December of 2017, just before the city took over regulating and managing the industry, they created an accessibility surcharge fund for us," Heather says, "and the thought behind that was that someday down the road, this fund would be used to improve accessible service, improve the experience for customers, but also incentivize and offset some of the additional costs for those service providers."

The two-year project is set to end in 2023, but Heather believes they could determine a conclusion by the middle of 2023.

"Our expectation is that by mid-2023 we'll be in a position to make a decision where we're either going to Council and asking them to authorize this on a permanent basis in order to keep going, or just saying that it hasn't been everything we've thought it might be and that it's time to stop it."

Winnipeg is the second city in Canada to implement this project, and with stores opening up to full capacity and summer on its way, Heather believes travel will begin to pick up again quickly.