Sex offenders need not apply

Convicted sex offenders and murderers will no longer be able to drive cabs in Whitehorse, under the new draft vehicle-for-hire bylaw. It's just one of many changes to the law suggested to council Tuesday night during a special hearing.

Convicted sex offenders and murderers will no longer be able to drive cabs in Whitehorse, under the new draft vehicle-for-hire bylaw.

It’s just one of many changes to the law suggested to council Tuesday night during a special hearing.

Cabbies will also no longer be required to know first aid.

The city thought first aid was a good idea, but then got worried about liability issues and nixed it.

There was also debate about rates.

Taxi fare currently starts at a maximum of $3.15 and goes up 20 cents every one-ninth of a kilometre.

The draft bylaw suggested raising this to $4 and 23 cents every one-ninth of a kilometre.

But some councillors thought it should go up even more.

Make it $4.50, said Councillor Doug Graham, noting cabbies could undercut each other.

“It’s a free market,” he said. “Do you want to control the price of ice cream at McDonald’s too?”

But Councillor Ranj Pillai wasn’t so sure.

“You say we should be charging people coming home from the bar,” he said.

“But what about the guy working back shift who can’t afford a car, and there’s no transit?”

Don’t make cabs even more unaffordable, said Pillai.

If gas prices go up, there should be wiggle room for cabbies to adjust their rates, said Councillor Florence Roberts.

But drivers can only set their rates once a year under the bylaw, anyway.

In the end, council decided to raise the maximum rate and allow cabbies to increase their rates every six months.

While the new bylaw raises rates, it drops the amount of liability insurance taxis need to $1 million from $3 million.

This saves drivers money on expensive, often hard-to-find insurance, said bylaw manager Dave Pruden, who was presenting the draft bylaw.

“If I was making a PowerPoint presentation for Yukon College in my living room, I’d still need two-million liability insurance,” said Councillor Dave Austin, who thought taxis should be in the same boat.

But the cabbies in the audience disagreed.

Two-million liability insurance costs about $2,500 per car, per year, they said.

“It would put me out of business,” said one driver.

Many of the 11 cab companies in Whitehorse are run by owner/operators driving just one car.

In Yellowknife, cab companies are barred from running a single car.

Its taxi bylaw – which also makes it illegal for sex offenders and murderers to operate cabs – ensures a company must have 10 cars before it can operate.

When asked why Whitehorse didn’t follow Yellowknife’s lead, Councillor Dave Stockdale blamed organized crime.

“The mafia runs Yellowknife’s taxis,” he said.

Yellowknife has only two cab companies that operate 24-hour dispatch offices.

Whitehorse’s draft bylaw has omitted the need for a dispatch office.

Now, a car can act as its own dispatch, eliminating third-party oversight.

It is cheaper.

But it also compromises safety for both the drivers and passengers.

No one else knows who’s in a taxi or where it’s going.

This makes illegal activities, including drug dealing, that much easier.

And peddling is an issue, said Pruden.

“But it’s a chicken-and-egg situation,” he said.

“Owning more cars would make dispatch more affordable.”

However, all the existing owner/operators would be grandfathered in anyway, said Roberts.

“There is a problem that these vehicles are being used for drug deals,” she added.

The new bylaw also requires cabs that transport people with physical disabilities meet Canadian Motor Vehicle standards.

“We had people in wheelchairs strapped down with bungee cords,” said Pruden.

“It wasn’t safe.”

But the disability clause in the draft bylaw made Mayor Bev Buckway wary.

“There are people in the public who like to take people to human rights for things like this and I’d hate to see the legal bills,” she said, mentioning that some cab companies may not be wheelchair accessible.

The public includes people with disabilities, said Councillor Betty Irwin.

“It also includes drunks and druggies,” said Roberts.

The city does have a Handy Bus, added city manager Dennis Shewfelt.

The draft bylaw does not include a dress-code requirement.

And it does not regulate the consumption of food, beverages or radio use for cabbies.

However, it does require taxi drivers to use a hands-free cellphone system.

Cars must be inspected by designated officers twice a year, before winter and before the start of the tourist season, in May.

And cars cannot have body damage that “causes distraction.”

After going over it with council, Pruden is taking the draft bylaw to the city’s legal team.

As is, the cabbies at the meeting were happy.

But once the lawyers get at it, things could change, they said.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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