Step 5 letter to Mayor Becker

Wed December 22nd, 2010

Dear Mayor Becker,

Handi Van Inc. has two written inspections of the same vehicle, a week apart.  On November 30, 2010,everything passed except a “left rear turn/brake light lens”.  We were told to get this red plastic part replaced and make a 15 minute appointment to show the lens, get paperwork, and re-activate the computer chip.  That the van would not need a whole new inspection.  The vehicle was driven straight to a body shop.  The part was ordered, installed, and the re-inspection appointment made.

On at the appointment on December 8, there was talk of age and mileage, and the vehicle was put through a re-inspection that was unprecedented and extreme in our experience.  Two hours later, it was rejected again.  It has a big red sticker declaring it out of service by order of a government entity which is typical if a vehicle does not pass.  But the computer chip was removed, which has never happened to us.  The first comment  on this written inspection was “mileage as of 12/8/2010 = 369731.”  So this wheelchair van is 19,000 miles over the mileage limit in the taxi ordinance that passed that week.  It is over the age limit too, but there is a two year grace period for companies to phase their fleets into compliance.  This  inspection buries the van in $5,000 to $10,000 or more worth of cosmetic complaints.   The van did not change in a week.

Because Handi Van Inc. is not a taxi company but a wheelchair van service operated under the Special Transportation Statute, there was already an exception in the new taxi law to apply for a mileage waiver if there were “no other problems”.  So the two radically different inspection reports  make sense if the intent was to block an appeal of the mileage limit which was put into effect that week.  This inspection piles on from $5,000 to $10,000 or more worth of “other problems” of an appearance nature.  That is what I was talking about when I told the City Council that grace periods on age and mileage are meaningless if the vehicles are knocked out  at inspection.

Within 2 days of the City Council meeting, the over limit vehicles started passing if there were “no other problems”.  So the vehicles which had no statutory appeal route and were failed on miles alone are now going through on re-inspection.  And I believe they have the benefit of the City now signaling a desire for a phase in period rather than an intent to fail at inspection.  But what about this Handi Van with one inspection that would have us good to go having bought a plastic lens,  and another inspection that basically puts it out of business?

Two minutes at the City Council was not enough time to explain that all ADA vans are aftermarket conversions.  New ones cost in the $40,000 range. (Replacement costs on our big Ford conversion is in the $80,000 neighborhood.)   We don’t know who did the conversion on the van with the inspection problem right now, or if they are still in business. It is mechanically a Dodge truck but the body shop cannot just call Dodge and get interior vinyl panels or other cosmetic parts. The original roof and doors are all gone.  The extended top is fiberglass, which takes a different kind of paint. The windows behind the cab are all custom.  The bench seat and the vinyl interior are not original to the van, which left  the factory as a work van with unfinished interior, no windows, and two small back doors instead of one big door with a big window.  The extended doors for the wheelchair entrance are custom. Fixing the inch and half gap in the metal trim on the bottom of the back window involves the big window and the rubber gasket and the metal trim–which are all one piece–and would cost about $1000 to replace.  The bench seat is ideally placed to fit a folded courtesy wheelchair between it and the back door.  The wheelchair probably bumped and rubbed over time and caused damage to the back of the bench seat and the one inch tear in the vinyl inside  the back door.

Two minutes at the City Council was not enough to explain that this wheelchair van is ideal for the business and is one of two which allow Handi Van Inc to do things no other carrier in Salt Lake City can.  We get referrals from UTA’s Flex-trans and other carriers because we can lift wheelchairs heavier, and with bigger wheelbases than their lift platforms, and wider in the seat than can fit through the support posts bolted to floor in the doorway.

All of my vehicles will have to be retired this year or next on the age part of the law, so it is not a good use of money to do a big makeover now.  And what if we spend the money and just get another to-do list?  Because you can always find something wrong with a used vehicle  if you want to. There is a recession on, and so much is in flux.  Handi Van Inc. is going to take a hit when the new law forces taxis to run wheelchair vans at taxi rates.  But some disabled people need more than a taxi, even with a lift.  Today we shoveled snow, and  carried people down stairs.  We often help people into wheelchairs, and out of their nursing home rooms, and check them in at the doctor’s reception desk.   People with disabilities do not all shovel their sidewalks and met you at the curb.  Right now I am buying snow shovels for my vans because snow shorts out power wheelchairs.  We have to make sure it is knocked down in their path.

I have been appealing to everyone I can think of.  I appealed to Larry Bowers at the airport.  I went to the City Council meeting and explained as much as I could in the 2 minutes they allow.  Randy of Cache Valley Shuttle was there too, saying his vehicles were being failed on miles and he was going to have to downsize and lay off 30 people. Can you imagine what it would do to Salt Lake’s airport revenue if people in northern Utah had to drive their own cars to the airport and then go through the hated body search?  They would drive their own cars to Seattle.  The City may not as readily realize the importance  of what Handi Van Inc. does.

I need to quit right now if this cannot be solved because my other vehicles are going to come up for inspection in a couple months and they all have age and mileage issues.  In a year or two things might be different, but right now I cannot  get money from a bank for the business without pledging my house.  I am already in too deep against the house.   I would rather just let the business go under than set myself up to loose it and my house.   However that won’t be good for the corporation’s employees, passengers, creditors, businesses, we patronize.

I am appealing to you for any help you can offer, and as soon as possible.  Right now I cannot legally take the alarming big red sticker off the windshield  and use the van  in the county if I ever want to get it legal  in the City again.    I cannot legally have someone get in it and drive it into the City  to show it to you and the City Council.  I am working my way through every possible appeal  I can think of until something works.  After you, perhaps Santa, the media, and Oprah. I would love to have 4 new vehicles to sail through the inspections.  Pay my employees more, charge the customers less, and keep on helping people in wheelchairs make their lives work, and pay my medical bills and my house off again.  I cannot do it by myself right now.

Yours truly, 

Lee Anne Walker
Handi Van Inc.


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