Caregivers who drive should get discount, says Coquitlam dad

Dennis McMillan, of Coquitlam, says toll exemptions for the Port Man Bridge should be provided for people who drive disabled people to appointments not just disabled drivers. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Dennis McMillan, of Coquitlam, says toll exemptions for the Port Man Bridge should be provided for people who drive disabled people to appointments not just disabled drivers.

Coquitlam man with an autistic son says it’s not fair that caregivers of people with disabilities have to pay the $3 toll to cross the Port Mann Bridge.

Dennis McMillan says he was shocked to learn he can’t get an exemption from tolls for driving his son to weekly psychologist appointments in Surrey because exemptions only apply to disabled drivers who are registered vehicle owners or lease holders.

McMillan, who is on a pension because of a disability, says he can’t afford the extra $60 a month in tolls to get his son to the Able Developmental Clinic. His son is old enough to drive but because of cognitive difficulties, wouldn’t be safe operating a vehicle, he said.

“The only reason I go to Surrey is to go to that clinic,” said McMillan, who says other families he knows are in the same boat. “Many of them are one-parent families or lower-income families [who have children with a disability].”

He could switch clinics to avoid the toll but McMillan said it would be hard on his son, who has gone to the same clinic for more than 10 years.

McMillan’s efforts to raise the issue have received support from the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities but the company that operates the TreO tolling program said the policy has been reviewed and won’t be changed because of the cost.

Max Logan said TI Corp. recently reviewed its policy and found that there were very few jurisdictions that offered an exemption like that offered with the Port Mann Bridge to disabled drivers who own or lease their cars, and it was unable to find any toll authorities that offered a break on tolls for people who drive people with disabilities.

It also concluded that changing the policy would be too expensive, costing $1 million per year, up from $300,000 per year.

“For these reasons — the lack of precedence in other jurisdictions, consistency with the approach of other B.C. government agencies and the significant costs — the exemption eligibility will remain available for vehicle owners and lease holders,” Logan said in an email.

But the executive director of the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities said providing a discount to caregivers isn’t unreasonable or unusual. Jane Dyson pointed out that airlines, including Air Canada and West Jet, provide free fares to caregivers of people with severe physical disabilities.

“I would say in some situations where the caregiver is responsible for getting the person with the disability or a senior to a medical appointment that should be something that is looked at,” said Dyson. She acknowledged the toll for caregivers wasn’t a big issue that had come up until now.

McMillan raised his concern in the media in the hopes of sparking change. His efforts follow the release of a traffic study that showed average weekday vehicle traffic on the bridge was down 3% in January from January 2013, when tolls were $1.50.

Recently, B.C. truckers asked for toll relief but were denied.


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