Taxi bylaw changes will hurt industry, warns cab owner

Proposed changes to Whitehorse's taxi bylaw are "unrealistic and impractical," according to Ken Giam, owner of the city's largest taxi company.

Proposed changes to Whitehorse’s taxi bylaw are “unrealistic and impractical,” according to Ken Giam, owner of the city’s largest taxi company.

One of the biggest changes, to be presented to council around the end of May, is the requirement for companies to have at least one wheelchair accessible taxi.

Giam, who runs both Premier Cabs and Grizzley Bear Taxi, said there simply isn’t enough demand in Whitehorse to warrant that.

“We get about five calls a week – the overflow from people who can’t get a ride on the city’s Handy Bus,” he said.

“To have every company acquire one isn’t practical. It’s very expensive – between $40,000 to $60,000 for one.

“And no one wants to drive it because it’s too time consuming. Even with added incentives, I’d have a hard time finding drivers for it.”

Under the proposed change, companies would have until May 1, 2017 to comply with the requirement.

Buying a wheelchair accessible taxi wouldn’t put him out of business – but smaller companies with one or two vehicles would feel the pinch a lot more, he said.

In 2011 there were approximately 12 taxi companies in the city. That number dropped significantly after the current taxi bylaw came into effect that year.

One of the requirements was for companies to work through a central dispatcher, which many smaller operators couldn’t afford.

Today, there are six companies – five, if you count both of Giam’s as one.

Companies would also have until May 1, 2018 to install security cameras in their vehicles.

As it stands, a person can obtain a taxi permit despite having been convicted of three crimes in the past five years.

The new change would tighten up the requirement and allow for only two convictions in the last 10 years.

When asked why bylaw services didn’t bring the requirement down to zero convictions, manager Dave Pruden said it’s something council can choose to implement.

“In other jurisdictions across Canada, we found that they do allow people to have criminal records in their past, maybe because no one is perfect,” he said.

“But council could choose to change that. No decisions have been made yet.”

A permit will never be issued to someone who has been convicted under the criminal code of a sexual offence, an offence related to homicide, kidnapping, abduction, robbery, extortion, the trafficking of drugs or narcotics or any offence committed while on duty as a driver, he added.

Pruden began meeting with various stakeholders and taxi companies back in the fall to discuss potential changes to the bylaw.

In February, 168 respondents filled out an online survey about the vehicle for hire industry.

The results were mostly negative. It showed that many people don’t feel safe inside vehicles for hire, don’t consider them clean enough and feel the fare rates are too high.

Pruden said the results were consistent with what he’d heard during the consultation process.

“We get that from time to time,” he said, “and it helps inform us at the department about what the concerns are.”

“If everything was great out there with the industry, we’d be getting different comments. I’m not here to say the industry is good or bad.

“The comments reflect the way people feel.”

Giam, who has a fleet of 40 cabs and about 90 per cent of the total market share in Whitehorse, said the consultation process wasn’t thorough enough.

He remembers speaking with Pruden and making suggestions, but none were included in the draft bylaw, he said.

“I thought I was heard, he told me I had good ideas,” Giam said.

“I’ve been in this business 30 years. I told him that every major city in Canada, even Inuvik, puts a limit on the number of permits it issues.

“When you do that you see better cars, better service, better drivers. Right now it’s a free for all.”

The frustration is part of the reason why Giam recently put both companies up for sale, he said.

He’s also upset with the proposed change to set a flat rate of $12 or $13 for registered hotel guests travelling to and from the airport.

“That’s a 45 per cent decrease in the rate,” he said, “because you go from the airport to the downtown area and it’s usually between $18 to $20. They want to cut it down, when a lot of our drivers are living in impoverished housing.

“A lot of them are making less than minimum wage, sacrificing their health by working longer hours. I’ve been doing this for 10 years here and I’ve seen many of them die young, it’s not healthy.”

The city is gathering input on the draft bylaw until the end of today, Pruden said.

The next step is for the bylaw department to develop a final draft and present it to council, where it will be debated most likely in June.

“There will be an opportunity for everyone to voice their concerns if they’re unhappy with the draft, when it comes into the bylaw process,” Pruden said.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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