New taxi bylaw puts cabbies, customers and city at risk

Whitehorse's new taxi bylaw could land the city in court, says Gerry Manley. The Toronto transportation safety consultant couldn't believe the draft bylaw had no safety precautions in place for Yukon passengers or taxi drivers.

Whitehorse’s new taxi bylaw could land the city in court, says Gerry Manley.

The Toronto transportation safety consultant couldn’t believe the draft bylaw had no safety precautions in place for Yukon passengers or taxi drivers.

“Because the city licenses taxis, it has a moral and legal obligation to make their work environment as safe as possible,” said Manley.

And it’s not, he said.

The proposed bylaw doesn’t require Yukon taxi companies to have a separate dispatcher and base station.

This means a driver, operating a one-car business, can run the whole operation using a cellphone.

They can’t be driving while using the cellphone, said bylaw manager Dave Pruden, during a briefing on Wednesday.

But this isn’t the problem.

Not having a third party acting as dispatch means only the driver and the passenger know who’s in the car and where it’s going.

There is no outside oversight to question where that car has gone, or even who was in it, if the driver or passenger go missing.

“We tightened the provisions of the Criminal Code,” said Pruden, when asked about the lack of third-party oversight.

In the existing bylaw, drivers are eligible to drive cab, even if their past convictions include sexual offences, trafficking, assault, kidnapping or robbery.

Under the new bylaw, cabbies with lesser Criminal Code convictions could still have a chance at getting a permit, but not if they’ve been charged with sexual offences, trafficking, assault, kidnapping or robbery.

But that’s not good enough, said Manley.

For the past 40 years, Manley’s been driving cab in Toronto.

Before that he was a cop.

“Most bureaucrats and bylaw officials don’t have the experience in this field to be writing a taxi bylaw,” he said.

“They’re going to end up rewriting it until the cows come home.”

The city paid Outside the Cube $15,000 to talk to the community and taxi drivers about the draft bylaw.

“Whether you are in the business of developing a luxury resort, bidding on an international sporting event, delivering government programs, or you just have an idea that you want to tell the world about, we have a plan,” Outside the Cube proclaims on its website.

The city needs to hire someone who knows what they’re talking about, said Manley.

“How can (Outside the Cube) do the consultations when they don’t understand the industry?”

And Manley couldn’t believe the cost.

“Fifteen thousand dollars? I could have done it for a third of that and placed a rock-solid bylaw in your hands at the end of it.”

Outside the Cube gave the city a printout of its PowerPoint presentation and a stapled 23-page community consultation report.

“The city just wasted $15,000,” said Manley.

After lobbying Toronto for 30 years, Manley made a difference.

The bylaw was changed, requiring all taxis have cameras and an emergency light that can be activated, but not deactivated, from a button in the cab.

There’s also a button in the trunk, for cabbies who end up locked in there after being beaten or robbed.

This happens, said Manley.

While emergency lights are important, it’s cameras in cabs that Manley is really pushing for in Whitehorse.

The cameras, which document every trip, can’t be turned on or off by the driver.

If an incident is reported to police, all they have to do is plug a USB into the computer and download the pictures, he said.

“They can find out what happened in a heartbeat.”

Since 2000, when cameras were installed in all Toronto taxis, cabbie crime dropped by 75 per cent, not only in terms of assault, but also drug trafficking.

But unless it’s written into the bylaw, cabbies won’t install cameras, said Manley.

“They won’t spend two cents if they don’t have to.

“You almost have to protect them in spite of themselves.”

The cameras cost between $700 and $1,200 and should be paid for by the companies, he said.

“That cost shouldn’t be passed on to the consumers.”

If cab companies pay taxes, it’s a business writeoff, he said.

Trouble is, many companies, especially guys operating out of their cars, work under the table and don’t pay taxes, so they won’t want to pay for cameras, said Manley.

Whitehorse’s draft bylaw still needs some tweaking.

It currently prohibits cabbies from carrying intoxicated passengers – one of the reasons people take cabs in the first place – when they’re too drunk to drive.

“This is one of the things we’re looking at,” said city public relations manager Matthew Grant.

It should say “may” not carry intoxicated passengers, not “shall” not, he said.

The section requiring taxi drivers to have first aid was also pulled from the most recent draft bylaw.

“That’s rather dumb, when you could save lives,” said Manley.

“What do you do if someone is convulsing in the back of your cab, sit there and wait for the ambulance?”

In Toronto, all cabbies must have CPR training.

“The course only costs $52,” said Manley.

There’s no smoking in cabs in Toronto either.

But in Whitehorse, the draft bylaw is hazy on this issue.

The section requiring cab drivers maintain a certain level of cleanliness was also pulled out.

The industry will regulate itself, said Pruden.

There is also no minimum number of cars required to start a company, unlike other jurisdictions, including Yellowknife.

“The city shouldn’t regulate the number,” said Pruden.

Currently, there are 15 cab companies operating in Whitehorse.

In Yellowknife, there are two.

The draft bylaw will also see rates rise, to $4.50 from $3.15, while each 1/9th kilometre will rise to 25 cents from 20.

The draft bylaw is expected to go before council for approval this fall, said Pruden.

But if this bylaw is passed, without the necessary safety precautions in place, drivers or passengers could end up taking the city to court, said Manley.

A taxi driver in Florida just did this, and won, he said.

“Because if the city is charging a fee for licensing and taxi permits, and not providing a safe workplace, they’re civilly liable.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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