What was supposed to be a fun night for Sven Ditty was ruined before it began.
The Toronto man was planning to visit a friend in Mississauga on the evening of Jan. 17. He called for a Beck Taxi to pick him up in downtown Toronto.
Ditty said he told the dispatcher during the call that he had a service dog with him – something he always does when requesting a ride.
However, when the taxi arrived to pick him up, the driver refused to let him in. And he said it was because of his service dog.
“It’s happened many, many times,” Ditty told CP24.com.
“A lot of (taxi companies) aren’t abiding by the rules, human rights and Charter of Rights with respect to disabled persons,” he added.
Ditty said his dog was wearing a service vest, and he had all the proper documentation. He shared a video of his interaction with the driver with CP24.com
In the video, Ditty is heard telling the driver that he is required by law to give him and his service dog a ride.
The driver replies: “No, it’s option. It’s option.”
Ditty reiterates to the driver that he cannot deny them service. However, the driver refuses.
He said he had to wait half an hour in the rain for another taxi.
This is not the first time Ditty has been denied a ride because of his canine companion, and he said he is upset that it keeps happening.
He believes taxi drivers are not being made explicitly aware of the rules around service animals. According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, service animals must be allowed to stay with their owner when they receive services in restaurants, grocery stores and taxis.
Kristine Hubbard, operations manager at Beck Taxi, said Ditty should not have been refused service because of his service dog.
“This is not a regular occurrence, and any driver who would refuse a service animal is removed from the fleet immediately as we have a zero-tolerance policy for human rights code violations,” Hubbard said in an email to CP24.com.
In subsequent correspondence, Hubbard said she had spoken to Ditty and explained that the company is indeed educating its drivers and enforcing policies regarding customers’ rights. She added that Beck Taxi has a specific section dedicated to service animals and guide dogs.
Ditty shared with CP24 an email Hubbard sent to him following their phone call, in which she apologized for what happened and offered reimbursement for the trip.
“The video you captured is stunningly disappointing. I can only try to imagine what it was like for you outside on that rainy evening pleading to get into the car, and I am so sorry,” Hubbard wrote.
She also explained that Beck Taxi drivers are first trained and licensed by the City of Toronto and receive further sensitivity training with Beck Taxi.
“We have a strict zero-tolerance policy for service animal refusals, and that policy was applied in this case. It doesn’t change the fact that you encountered such egregious treatment, but it can help to ensure that it doesn’t happen again when someone uses Beck,” Hubbard wrote.
As for Ditty, he wanted to share his experiences to prevent it from happening again.
Unfortunately, he said that it did occur again.
In a subsequent interview, Ditty said he was left waiting in the cold for more than an hour last week in Mississauga after several taxi drivers refused to give him a ride.
And he said it was because of his service dog.
“I ended up waiting over an hour and a half and had like four different guys not accept me,” a frustrated Ditty told CP24.com.
“I’m beyond … I don’t know what to do at this point.”
Ditty said he informed the taxi dispatcher for Blue and White Taxi that he had a service dog when he first ordered a cab to drive him to Toronto at 10:15 p.m.
He wasn’t able to get into one until 11:30 p.m. after calling the company 15 times.
“There’s clearly an issue with the training and experience and also, with these companies that are indicating that their drivers are trained when they’re clearly not,” he said.
“They just don’t want to have dogs in their car.”
When reached by CP24.com, a Blue and White Taxi spokesperson acknowledged in a statement that there were some challenges on the night in question, saying that customers faced longer wait times for rides in the evening.
However, the company said the first two cabs that came to pick Ditty up left because they waited more than 10 minutes for him and not because of his service dog.
“Because he missed two cars already, those cars will not come back. Not because it is a service animal but because they don’t want to have another no-show. We only had two cars in the area at the time. And we had to pull from other areas to get a driver to pick him up,” Corey Nikkel said in an emailed statement.
For his part, Ditty said when he got the notification that the taxi had arrived, he immediately came down, but by the time he was at the lobby, the driver was gone. He added that it did not take him 10 minutes to come down from his friend’s third-floor unit to the ground floor.
“I have a bad back. I walk kind of slowly these days because I have an issue with my back. But by the time I got to the lobby, which was less than five minutes, the cab had already come and gone,” he said.
Nikkel initially said in a statement that “some drivers” stated they did not want to take Ditty. But in a subsequent statement, he said he did not find any drivers with a pre-disqualification based on the phone or address.
Nikkel added that only one driver in the company has filed a medical report with the City of Mississauga saying they can’t carry dogs due to a pre-existing medical condition.
“Drivers are allowed to knock and (not) take people they don’t want to provided they have a sufficient reason. And having a service animal is not any of them,” he said.
“We, on behalf of Blue and White, feel that he should not have had to wait as long as he did, and we apologize for that.”
Ditty has indicated that he is exploring filing a human rights complaint.