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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
When Gwen McDonald’s husband had a heart attack in March last year, she had no disabled-accessible transportation to reach him in the emergency room.
Fortunately her husband is alive and well today, but not being able to be by his side in a medical emergency, she said, was horrible.
If a similar situation arose today, McDonald, who relies on a wheelchair for mobility, would have more readily available options through the new accessible taxi service through Sourdough Cab.
It’s been a long time coming, and a “tremendous collaboration” between the City of Ketchikan, Southeast Alaska Independent Living and Sourdough Cab, according to SAIL program director Keith Smith.
“(It) allows Sourdough to have accessible tours, part of what I think is a wonderful trend in Ketchikan, making Ketchikan more accessible to people from the outside,” Smith said. “But at the same time, be able to run a tour and have an accessible cab so that it’s always here for people locally.”
The two new accessible taxis, with a price tag of $57,000 each, are up and running, and were paid for almost entirely in full. Smith said 80 percent of the cost was covered by the Alaska Department of Transportation and the remaining cost was divided between the Rasmuson Foundation and the lease to the taxi operator.
McDonald took her first trip in one a few weeks ago. She was able to enjoy the Blueberry Arts Festival — an event she hasn’t been able to attend since 2010.
“There wasn’t a way to get there (before),” McDonald explained. “The cab took us right to the closest point where it was accessible, helped me get out, (and) made sure I was getting into the state building successfully.”
When their fun at the festival ended, they went back up Main Street and called the cab again, knowing it could be a 30 minute wait.
“He was there in about 10 minutes and (he was) cheerful, and I see a real dedication from the drivers I’ve worked with,” she said. “Certainly with Mr. (Zac) Boles (owner of Sourdough Cab), who has made it very clear to me he wasn’t going to do it unless it could be done right. That is very obvious with the way it’s carried out.”
Planning her day and getting around town was not as easy before a month ago. The only way she could travel with public transportation was with the senior bus service, through Catholic Community Service, which only runs until 8 p.m.
McDonald said it’s an “excellent service” and one she still uses every day to get to work, but she wasn’t able to do things in the spur of the moment — something Smith took notice of.
“Basically anything you decide to do, you can’t do it on a whim and it takes you three hours to do,” he said. “For someone who needs wheelchair access, they can’t just pick up and go to the bank, they can’t run down and meet friends, they can’t stay an extra hour at work because there’s a work party afterwards. You can’t go to a play because a play will go to 9:00 and paratransit only goes until 8:00.”
Smith and McDonald said they’re both most excited about the wide range of activities that are now accessible to all of Ketchikan’s residents, in a wheelchair or otherwise, as the service will run 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Zac Boles did not respond to requests by the Daily News for comment.
“I see the whole community that came together at different levels and different capacities to make it happen,” McDonald said. “It really excited my husband and I to have access to the community. That really puts us on more of an equal footing with others.”