Safety primary issue raised by taxi consultation

The city's taxi industry doesn't seem well regulated, say taxi-users who took part in a recent consultation.

The city’s taxi industry doesn’t seem well regulated, say taxi-users who took part in a recent consultation.

In April, the city gave Outside the Cube Consulting a $15,000 contract to gauge citizens’ and taxi drivers’ feelings about the industry. This week, the group released preliminary results of their consultations.

There should be stronger efforts by the city to regulate and enforce safety issues, said taxi users.

Drug dealing, delivering alcohol, exchanging rides for sexual favours and sexual harassment were all raised as safety concerns.

Youth groups and women’s groups who were interviewed felt extremely vulnerable and concerned for their safety, said Outside the Cube CEO Dee Enright.

“For many of these people, taxis are the only option in the evenings and weekends (when the city’s bus service stops running),” she said.

“They pointed out that the guy who picks you up at 2 in the morning isn’t the same driver who picks you up from the airport at 8 in the morning.”

These groups were looking to ban all drivers who have a criminal record of sexual assault. Currently, the city will license drivers with a sexual assault record as long as the person’s record is at least five years old.

Taxi users with disabilities also raised their own set of concerns.

Using a bungee cord to strap in people with wheelchairs and requesting more money to transport people with disabilities is unacceptable, said some users.

The need for consultation was raised by city councillors in February after the bylaw department released a controversial set of bylaws for taxi and limousine drivers.

Taxi drivers were so opposed to the proposed bylaws they threatened to hold a city-wide strike if the bylaws were enacted.

Banning cellphones, implementing a dress code for drivers and increasing their liability insurance to $5 million were the most contentious ideas raised by the bylaw department at the time.

Having held unsuccessful consultations with taxi drivers in the past, the city opted to hire a private consultant to do the work instead.

Outside the Cube surveyed 150 people in Whitehorse in addition to holding 38 one-on-one interviews with cabbies, taxi users, people from the tourism industry and advocacy groups.

They also held a separate consultation with eight of the city’s 13 taxi owners.

Safety concerns and a feeling the taxi industry isn’t regulated well enough were the most frequent comments heard by the consultants, said Enright.

Criticisms aside, there was still a lot of middle ground between taxi users and drivers, she said.

Both groups agreed the city shouldn’t implement an outright ban on cellphones. Instead, drivers should be allowed to use hands-free cellphones.

The city also shouldn’t enforce a dress code or regulate whether cabbies can eat or drink inside their taxis, said those interviewed. They should be allowed to regulate themselves, they said.

There was feedback from both sides to eliminate taxi companies with only one car. In Whitehorse, five of 13 cab companies are run by sole operators.

Regular mechanical inspections and enforcement of the city’s current bylaws are also crucial, said taxi users and drivers.

Taxi drivers have complained the city shouldn’t be adding bylaws when they don’t even enforce existing rules.

The animosity between the bylaw department and cabbies is so strong it will take at least six months to rebuild relationships between both groups, said Enright.

The city shouldn’t consider new bylaws until the relationship is mended, said Enright.

Outside the Cube expects to release its final report in the next couple of weeks.

Contact Vivian Belik at