A weekend trip to Montreal came with an added $348 to the bill after Maddy Dever says they were forced to pay for a hotel room because there weren’t any accessible taxis operating in Ottawa.

Dever arrived back in Ottawa on the train from Montreal Sunday night and took OC Transpo to Kanata Centrum, where they planned to call a cab home to Carleton Place.

But Dever, who uses they/them pronouns, says they were told around 11 p.m. the wait for an accessible cab would be at least an hour—if one was available.

Nearly an hour later, Dever says Capital Taxi told them there were no accessible cabs available. There still weren't any on the roads when Dever called again just before 1 a.m.

Because there was no accessible cab available, they stayed at the Holiday Inn at Kanata Centrum Sunday night. In fact, it wasn’t until nearly 11 a.m. Monday morning, more than an hour after Dever called for a third time, that they finally were picked up. 

“I feel landlocked. Honestly I feel like I am stuck,” Dever said. 

Dever is not the only accessible transit user to experience issues finding a taxi. Saturday night, Michael Lifshitz says he waited two hours for an accessible cab before finding out his order was never placed. Lifshitz says he wound up waiting more than seven hours—many of them in a hotel lobby—before finally getting a ride home.

Capital Taxi apologized, and said they are retraining dispatchers in response.

Accessibility activists say the incidents are far from unique; both Dever and Lifshitz added these latest delays aren’t the first time they’ve spent hours waiting for an accessible taxi.

“When I want to do anything that’s quality of life, that’s outside of my own little area in my own little town, it’s extremely difficult. I have to leave a day early, come a day late because I can’t make sure the transportation I need is going to be there when I need it,” Dever said.

According to Coventry Connections Inc., the parent company of Blue Line Taxi and Capital Taxi, there were at least 187 accessible cabs licensed in the city prior to the pandemic, but that number has since dropped nearly in half. There are now fewer than 100 accessible taxis on the road.

“Post COVID, many of the drivers have not come back to work,” Marc Andre Way, CEO of Coventry Connections, said.

Multiple taxi drivers who spoke to CTV News Ottawa, but asked not to be named, said the costs of driving accessible taxis make the work prohibitive.

One driver says insurance for his taxi ran nearly $1,000 per month, and combined with rising fuel costs, he made the decision to stop driving accessible cabs.

“A driver who is on an accessible plate has expenses that are far larger than one who is on a sedan or regular car. The initial purchase of the vehicle is double the price, the maintenance is double the price,” Way said.

A city staff report that will include recommendations on how to get more accessible cabs on the roads isn’t expected until next year.

“We’re looking at measures such as subsidizing the installation of accessible gear in cabs in order to increase the amount that are available,” said Coun. Matthew Luloff, chair of the community and protective services committee.

“We are very lucky in Ottawa to have the most amount of accessible plates on cars in the entire country; however, more work needs to be done,” he added.

Luloff says he expects the report to be available next spring, but implementing solutions could take even longer.

Accessibility advocates say they would like more Para Transpo buses on city streets, and a longer schedule—particularly in the evening and overnight hours.

“The bus that comes in here, it quits about 6 p.m. I feel like I’m on a curfew; I’ve got a time that I have to be home just because I have an accessibility issue,” community accessibility advocate Catherine Gardner said.

Gardner says it is imperative that accessible taxis are available at all hours for possible medical emergencies that don’t require an ambulance.

“It’s a right that we have. Anything that an able bodied person can do to do a taxi, we should be able to do the same thing,” Dever said.