May 17, 2013 - 6:36am LAURA FRASER CITY HALL REPORTER
A blind woman put out of a taxi last September wants the province to hike the fines for cabbies who refuse to drive a passenger accompanied by a service dog.
Linda Sheppard also met with Halifax Regional Municipality’s accessibility advisory committee this week, asking them to look at whether taxi drivers should get more training about their legal responsibilities to disabled passengers.
Sheppard filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission after she was left at the Sobeys in Cole Harbour last September.
She has since had a resolution conference with the commission, the driver, a Bob’s Taxi manager and the municipality. Sheppard said she asked the commission to look at stiffer penalties and education.
“There’s a lot of people with a lot of complaints, but they’re just not loud enough,” the Colby Village woman said in an interview.
“So I’m speaking for everybody to try to make a change.”
Sheppard said she got into a cab Sept. 5 and asked the driver to move the passenger seat forward so that her “eyes,” a yellow Labrador retriever named Torrin, could squeeze behind it.
Instead, she said the driver took her groceries out of the trunk and asked the pair to leave.
He was charged under a municipal bylaw that prohibits drivers from refusing service to those with service animals, said the municipality’s co-ordinator of taxi licensing standards. The fine, as set by the province, is $129.66.
Kevin Hindle said drivers can only legally refuse someone if they have an allergy themselves — or some other medical reason — that would mean they couldn’t have an animal in the car.
Cabbies are required to file medical proof with the licensing standards office.
The bylaw also allows for progressive discipline; a driver found to have several complaints could have his licence suspended or revoked.
Kim DeMont, manager at Bob’s Taxi, said she has never had a complaint filed before against this driver.
His version of events differed somewhat from Sheppard’s at the resolution hearing, DeMont said.
She didn’t want to judge in either case, because she wasn’t there.
Drivers own their own vehicles, but DeMont said they “rent” the business name in order to take calls from the company’s dispatch.
After Sheppard’s complaint was filed, the manager said she told the firm’s 200 cabbies that their calls would be suspended for a week if they refused to drive someone with a service animal.
DeMont said she has asked the municipality for a copy of a training CD she can give to drivers if she hears of a complaint.
The accessibility committee chairwoman said the group will wait until the commission publishes a decision before making any recommendations regarding training.