Monday evening, taxi drivers slammed the city’s bylaw department for not properly consulting them when rewriting the bylaw that governs cabbies.
“It has been very difficult for the taxi industry to get input into the process,” Premier Cabs owner Ken Giam told council.
In February 2009, the city met with some taxi operators to ask what changes they wanted made to the bylaw that governs their business.
But not all taxi operators were included, and many of those who attended have gone out of business, said taxi driver Ken Pumphrey, who also addressed council.
Pumphrey was referring to Yellow Cab, Whitehorse Taxi and 5th Avenue Taxi, all companies owned by Graham Jackson, that went under last month.
Neither Giam or Pumphrey were at that meeting. They wanted to see more consultation with taxi drivers before the draft bylaw was handed over to the public for input.
“Is this all a show, is bylaw there, really?” said Giam.
“All our attempts at input haven’t been taken seriously and the industry has a lot of knowledge that the bylaw department doesn’t have,” said Giam.
Last week, Pumphrey asked the bylaw department for a copy of the revised vehicle-for-hire bylaw. He was refused.
But then he went to city hall and asked for the same document and was given it right away.
“Bylaw has been very protective of this document,” said Pumphrey.
“There are a lot of things in this bylaw that, if a driver looked at it, they would be aghast,” said Pumphrey.
That includes a proposal to ban cellphones for taxi drivers.
“It would mean a professional driver can’t have a cellphone and a graduated-licence driver can,” said Pumphrey.
“If we have Bluetooth (phones) what’s the problem?”
The suggestion is intended to make the industry safer by stopping cabbies from driving and dispatching calls at the same time, said bylaw manager John Taylor at last week’s council meeting.
But a targeted ban isn’t the answer, say drivers.
They want the bylaw department to enforce existing bylaws which require all taxi companies to have a dispatcher receiving calls at a separate base station.
A proposal to increase liability insurance for taxi operators to $3 million from $1 million was also criticized by the taxi industry. The increase would inflate rates for customers and possibly put some companies out of business, they said.
Friday, the taxi industry threatened to strike because of the proposed changes.
And some councillors believe the draft bylaw is too draconian.
“I can’t support this as I think we’re biting off more than we can chew,” said councillor Florence Roberts.
Dave Stockdale produced a laundry list of items he didn’t like.
“(Taxi drivers can be penalized) if they fail to seize drugs and alcohol from passengers,” he said.
“Are we asking taxi cabs to act like police?”
The draft bylaw also prevents taxi operators from using wheelchair-accessible vans for people who aren’t disabled and bars taxi drivers from transporting family members in their cars even when the taxi light is turned off, he added.
Stockdale suggested creating a working committee of city officials and taxi drivers to discuss the issue some more.
Councillor Ranj Pillai also supported that idea, even though concerns were raised about a previous meeting in 2006 with taxi drivers that had become “confrontational and not very constructive,” according to administrative director Robert Fendrick.
A meeting should still be attempted, said Pillai.
“At this point, I’d like to have the industry and bylaw sit down at a closed meeting. If it implodes, at least we tried,” he said.
Councillors voted in favour of releasing the draft document to the public for input.
The document can be accessed through the city bylaw department and commented on until March 15.
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