Photo by Whitehorse Star
KDFN chief Doris Bill
Photo by Whitehorse Star
KDFN chief Doris Bill
Being denied multiple rides from taxis from the city’s airport to the hospital has left the Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) frustrated – and calling for more sensitivity from cab drivers.
Last month, a KDFN citizen landed in Whitehorse around 10:30 pm. on April 23 via an Air North flight at Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport.
The individual’s brother was being medevacked to Whitehorse from Vancouver around the same time, and he had a Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) voucher to help with his transportation to the hospital.
“He was told there was a high probability his brother would not survive the return flight home,” wrote KDFN chief Doris Bill in an open letter dated May 9.
After trying to hail what Bill was told were three Yellow Cabs, all three drivers refused him service.
KDFN is not releasing the names of the individuals involved at this time, but Bill did speak to the Star Thursday afternoon about the incident. The individual’s brother survived that night, but has since passed away.
“He just said they waved him off; ‘next cab, next cab,’” Bill told the Star. “Had I not been there, he would have been stranded at the airport.”
The chief just happened to be at the site at that time, and personally drove the citizen to the hospital.
“I want to ask cab companies to be more accommodating and sensitive to people in these situations – the vouchers are equivalent to money,” Bill said.
“And some people who have these vouchers don’t have a lot of money.”
NIHB vouchers are part of a program that provide eligible First Nation and Inuit with coverage for some “medically necessary health-related goods and services,” which are not covered under provincial/territorial health and social programs or other private insurance plans.
A federal program, it can include things like over-the-counter medication, medical supplies and equipment, medical transportation and prescription drugs.
Medical transportation benefits can be provided to help people access services like doctor’s appointments, hospital care, alcohol, drug abuse and detox treatments that are pre-approved.
According to a Government of Canada webpage though, medical transportation for “compassionate travel” is not a benefit under the program – so it is excluded.
To Bill’s knowledge, the drivers knew that the citizen would be paying via voucher but were unaware of his circumstances involving his brother – but that shouldn’t matter, she said.
“People never – you don’t get into a taxi or whatever and share that information.
“I’m just asking them to be more sensitive because people that are using these vouchers could be facing some serious situations – you need to get from point A to point B,” she added.
“It’s a very difficult situation for this man and to have his situation compounded like that was just - it was really hard to understand,” she said.
“Honour the vouchers, it’s equivalent to money, I don’t know what the issue is.”
Meanwhile, a co-owner of Yellow Cabs told the Star today the incident should not have happened, and vowed to take disciplinary action.
“Our company’s policy is we take everything – as an individual effort, drivers might make a mistake about our policy,” said Abdul Sayid.
Sayid was unable to confirm in time for this afternoon’s publication whether it was in fact three Yellow Cab drivers involved.
He explained a denial of service would not serve the driver well – nor the client.
“Refusing paperwork is not going to help them because they’re not going to get a trip and at the same time they’ll be in trouble.”
He continued that it simply should not have happened as the company briefs drivers on what it accepts as payment when they are hired.
“I already told everybody not to do that, if I find anybody doing it, I’m going to fire them,” Sayid said, adding this is the first time in three years he’s heard of such an instance.
Getting such vouchers are common, he added; within the last three weeks or so, Sayid predicted he had $400 worth of them.
They can include those travelling from areas like Old Crow into Whitehorse for hospital visits and the like.
Sayid said he had not seen KDFN’s open letter, despite it being addressed to Yellow Cabs on Thursday.
The Star then shared Bill’s letter with Sayid, and he reiterated after seeing it that it should not have happened.
“We cannot refuse, any driver that refuses is no longer going to work for us,” he said.
“It could be one of the guys was hurting for money and he didn’t want that paperwork and he was aiming for cash – some stuff like that happens,” but it didn’t make it appropriate.
Sayid encouraged that for future reference, complaints can be called in and shared with dispatchers, who will pass them on to the appropriate person.
“Maybe one of them was there (at the airport), I’m not sure – I gave the list to Bylaw to find out who was there so we can call them in,” Sayid said earlier.
Meanwhile, the city, which regulates the taxi industry via its Vehicle for Hire bylaw, said it’s aware of the concern and looking into the matter.
“Our investigation will involve obtaining information and circumstances regarding the interaction that took place between the KDFN citizen and the vehicle for hire drivers in effort to determine if any contravention of the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw occurred,” wrote Doug Spencer this morning.
Spencer is the manager of bylaw services with the city.
He pointed out that NIHB transportation vouchers are forms of payment that have been accepted in the past.
“Inquiries are being made as to why this payment method was not accepted,” he added.
The city was unable to confirm in time for this afternoon’s publication if there was a timeline on when that investigation could wrap up.
“(The) investigation is in progress and whatever the investigation reveals will be compared against driver requirements of the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw,” Spencer added.
All taxi companies may not legally obligated to accept such vouchers, Bill said, but this shows a need for sensitivity from drivers.
Whether that translates into things like a change in rules, more training for staff or even legal actions, is too early to tell.
“I suspect it may be part of a much wider problem – I don’t know, but I guess we’ll find out once the story is out there,” Bill said.
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