For region to become less car-oriented, taxi system must be improved

When was the last time you took a taxi in Vancouver?

If you are like most Vancouver residents, you rarely take taxis unless you are going to the airport or picking up your car after servicing at the dealership.

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However, if you lived in New York, London, or most other world cities, you would likely be taking taxis on a regular basis. That is because they have a ‘taxi culture.’ People consider taxis as an important means of transportation.  

Vancouver does not have a ‘taxi culture.’

I first wrote about the need to improve Vancouver’s taxi service during a 2007 around-the-world trip when I had occasion to use taxis in more than 30 countries. In New Zealand a taxi from our hotel to a restaurant cost $8. The return trip, taking a similar route cost $12. When I questioned the additional cost, the driver asked if the first cab was as nice a car.

“No it wasn’t,” I replied.

He then asked if the driver was wearing a jacket and tie, like he was.

“No he wasn’t, I replied.

He then went on to explain that New Zealand had deregulated the taxi system and companies could offer different levels of service at different price levels. “Just like a plane or train,” he added.

The concept of offering different levels of service at different rates has always struck me as being very reasonable.

In Sophia, Bulgaria I remember picking up a cab at the train station to our hotel. When I asked the driver what it would cost, he pointed to the windshield where the rates were clearly posted. Having no knowledge of the local currency I got in the cab and watched the meter start to spin. By the time we arrived the fare was $23. I thought it was a lot.

That evening the hotel arranged for a taxi to take us to a downtown restaurant near the train station. The fare was $4. The return fare was about the same. When I mentioned this to the hotel manager, he told me that in Sophia taxis could charge whatever they wanted, as long as the fare was clearly posted. Most locals had the good sense not to use the cabs waiting at the train station!

I last wrote about the need to improve Vancouver’s broken taxi system in January 2015 following an SFU City Program event on Uber.

At the time I was concerned that except during weekend evenings, North Shore, Surrey or Richmond taxis bringing fares into Vancouver were not allowed to take fares back to their home municipalities. Furthermore, Vancouver taxis are often reluctant to take fares to distant parts of Metro Vancouver since they too are restricted from bringing fares back to the city.

Having often waited for a cab, I was not surprised to learn Vancouver has the lowest ratio of taxis per capita of any major Canadian city, and fares are approximately 15 per cent higher.

I found it significant that not one new taxi company had been allowed to enter the Vancouver market in 25 years. Compare this with any other retail or service industry.

I have again been thinking about taxis since attending a recent Greater Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon with Peter Gall, Q.C., counsel to the Vancouver Taxi Association.

The session was billed as an opportunity for the association to present its solutions to better meet the needs of the public.

For many years, the Board of Trade has had concerns about the taxi industry.  Under president and CEO Iain Black, it commissioned a paper that revealed Vancouver would need to add 1,900 new taxis just to meet what is on the road in Calgary.

It went on to recommend a number of changes to the regulatory framework which would allow taxis and ride sharing services to co-exist.

While many in attendance at the Board of Trade luncheon wanted to see major changes and improvements, Mr. Gall was protective of the industry, noting that taxi drivers have invested $500 million in the 800 licenses currently in existence.

Many challenged this position, noting that in other sunset industries, investors have lost out when their industry became obsolete. Just ask the owners of Blockbuster Video.

If Vancouver is to truly become a less car-oriented region, we must improve our taxi system. Hopefully, the province will pay attention to the Board of Trade’s recommendations.

michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com

@michaelgeller

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