It's not so easy to call a cab and get home after a night out if what you need is a wheelchair-accessible taxi.
Not only do these vehicles require advance notice (up to 24 hours for most bookings), they charge, apparently unbeknownst to the city, exorbitant rates.
Three companies with wheelchair-accessible cabs in their fleet respond to calls outside their Wheel-Trans gigs: Toronto Para Transit (TPT), Celebrity and Royal. Of the 75 licensed accessible vans, fewer than 10 are available on a moment's notice due to their contractual obligations to Wheel-Trans.
So unless you've pre-booked for one of those few precious vehicles not doing Wheel-Trans calls, forget about being spontaneous - or leaving the club at 2 or 3 in the morning.
TPT bill themselves as the leaders in wheelchair-accessible transportation and their Web site says the company's goal is to eliminate any barriers facing the disabled and aging community.
But manager Raj Takhar says the majority of their trips have to be pre-arranged. "We wouldn't do an order at 2 am because there would be no one in the office."
Charging a $45 flat rate also seems like a pretty significant barrier, as does the fact TPT raised its rates by 25 per cent over the summer.
"It benefits a lot of people if you're going really far within the city," Takhar maintains. But "if you're going two blocks away, it's still $45."
Celebrity charges by the kilometre for their trips, but their prices aren't much better. Anything under 4 km costs $25, up to 25 km $40, and travelling as far as 35 km will set you back $55.
Celebrity Taxi manager Ross Yates says it's "ludicrous" to compare the rates of a regular cab to those for a wheelchair-accesible van. "One costs $20,000, one $50,000," he says.
Takhar adds that the costs incurred for the vans and the insurance policies make them much more expensive to operate and maintain than regular cabs, so it wouldn't be fair to charge the same rates.
At Royal Taxi, general manager and director of operations Spiros Bastas says they charge by the cab's meter - but when I call the office later in the day for confirmation, a dispatcher there seems confused as to whether they charge a meter fare or a flat rate.
I recently rode in a Royal Taxi van that was booked through Wheel-Trans. The driver told me the company charges a flat rate of $32.50 for all of its non-Wheel-Trans trips to make it advantageous to drivers who may have had to travel a distance to get to the call.
It's all news to Bruce Robertson, the city's director of licensing, who tells me the companies shouldn't be charging flat rates, period.
"I wasn't aware of this and I appreciate you letting me know," he says. "I don't want to say the fares they're charging are out of line, but they shouldn't be flat rate. If it's not Wheel-Trans-related, it's a taxi fare. They're allowed to charge what they call waiting time if they have to load and unload the passenger, but even that's recorded on the meter."
Councillor Joe Mihevc, the city's disabilities advocate, says he was not up to speed on the issue but hoped to follow up on it after receiving my call.
"It's something we should check into," he says.
Robertson adds that the billing structure for accessible cabs is something being looked at in a more general way. He says it would be a losing proposition for these vans to operate without the work they get from Wheel-Trans since there is not as much demand for them as for regular taxis.
In the meantime, don't expect to be able to call on one when needed.