The Green Highway should be open to all and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is going to require massive changes in making transportation services accessible. This includes public transit and taxis. One in seven people in Ontario has a disability, according to the provincial government and that number will rise as the population ages.
On the taxi side, municipalities are now required to determine the proportion of accessible taxis needed in their communities. In Toronto, it is expected that by 2015 20 per cent of all taxis will be required to be wheelchair accessible with a built-in ramp; that could be up to 1,200 vehicles. At the present time, there are a handful of converted minivans trying to do the job.
That's where the MV-1 comes in. MV means Mobility Vehicle and this is the first vehicle that was designed from the ground up for wheelchair accessibility. It's a massive 5.2 metres long, weighs more than 2,200 kg and it has a built-in ramp sloping gently up to a wide, tall door. The MV-1 can easily accommodate a wheelchair and even a mobility scooter.
This is the first product from the Vehicle Production Group in Florida and is built at a factory in Indiana that used to build Hummers. It's distributed in Canada by Grande National Leasing, a former general leasing company that is concentrating exclusively on accessible vehicles for taxi companies, group homes and senior citizen facilities. Once it gets Transport Canada approval, it will put the MV-1 into the market this September.
I took a ride in one last week – in a wheelchair. The big ramp on the passenger side of the vehicle slides out from under the floor and inside the door; that will mean it won't get frozen or jammed with ice in the winter. Inside the vehicle, there was lots of room to turn my wheelchair around and move forward. That meant I could ride up front in the shotgun position where the passenger seat would normally go. That's where I want to ride, not stuffed in the back because I happened to be in a wheelchair.
I was securely fastened down with four restraints attached between wheelchair and floor plus a three-point seat belt. My chair didn't budge in a ride on city roads and, while the MV-1 is built like a truck, it rides like a car.
"We wanted a vehicle that was purposely built to be accessible, not one where the accessibility was an afterthought. We've converted minivans in the past and I can tell you that's not the way to go," said Nick Grande, Grande Leasing president.
The MV-1 is powered by a Ford V-8 and four-speed automatic just like a lot of taxis and limos. It's no fuel economy champion although it will be available with a compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel option. There's also a special driver's seat available that makes it easy to transfer from wheelchair to behind the wheel. There's also a package of hand-operated controls available.
I can see rich, aging boomers driving their electric scooters on board and then over to the driver's seat. The starting price of the MV-1 in Canada will be in the mid-$40,000s and the distributor is pressing the government to provide some sales tax relief to purchasers with disabilities and their service providers like taxi fleets.
I can certainly see a role for a vehicle like this, especially when transportation accessibility standards come into full force in Ontario over the next four years. It makes wheelchair accessibility a breeze and the wheelchair passenger feel great.