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Archive for January 14th, 2007

Local cab fleet lacks vehicles for disabled | Vancouver

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Local cab fleet lacks vehicles for disabled | Vancouver

Charles Castonguay, general manager of Yellow Cab, told the Straight that the matter is up to the Passenger Transportation Board to determine. The board regulates passenger-directed vehicles and intercity buses in the province.

The PTB is the successor to the Motor Carrier Commission. It was they that commissioned the report on the number of taxis in the city and the need for more licences. Comparison with other cities is one of the commonest way to argue for “need” – but why Toronto may be thought to have it “right” is less hard to establish.

The problem is that quantity licencing as practiced nearly everywhere in North America nearly always results in a shortage of licences, which therefore acquire a market value far in excess of that the cities levy. Many taxi drivers have mortgaged their homes to get a share of a licence, and some days after paying for fuel and other costs are lucky if they make minimum wage. And there always many more drivers waiting to get in to the business – often relatives of cab drivers, and usually recent immigrants unlikely to get any other kind of employment. Not that they are not qualified in other fields, just that their qualifications are not recognised here. There are plenty of engineers and physicians driving cabs.

So the existing licence holders have a vested interest in keeping the market value of licences high and will object to any application for new licences. And the PTB (like the MCC) will have to take that into account.

As for disabled taxis, the real issue is the lack of HandiDART service, but since that is not going to solved – ever – taxis are essential to fill the gap.

he has seen wheelchair-accessible cabs waiting for tourists outside hotels when they should have been responding to calls from disabled or elderly people.

BUT taxi drivers do not like driving people who use Translink’s taxi vouchers – and they do not tip as well as cruise ship passengers. Those vans are very popular for hauling all the luggage that cruise passengers have. Some taxi drivers object to carrying guide dogs and drive straight past blind passengers, knowing they are unlikely to be caught. Few taxi drivers have had any training in meeting special needs – come to that any training at all! As for “should” who says so? It is nowhere in the regs that specialised cabs have to give priority to anyone.

taxi.jpgThe solution lies in adopting the system of licensing used in London since the 1850s. There is no limit on the number of “black cabs” or drivers. But both drivers and vehicles must pass strict quality control tests. It takes about 2 years to qualify as a driver. Most will point to “the knowledge” (a sort of encyclopedia of Inner London’s geography that drivers must memorise) but customer service is also a very important element. And all black cabs are inspected frequently must have very high levels of maintenance and all are now accessible. Taxi rates are regulated, so for the market to work, it must be hard – but not impossible – to enter, and easy to leave. (photo from

Converting to such a system would require compensation for existing licence holders who currently control market entry to keep the value of the re-saleable licences high. But other cities have got around this by grandfathering existing owner drivers, and issuing new non-trade-able licences – and that includes Toronto. The right wing knee jerk response to deregulate the whole business has been tried (for example in Seattle) and usually results in chaos. Taxis have to be regulated to ensure basic safety and minimum service levels which both suffer under cut throat competition.

What taxi licence holders do not understand is that they have shrunk the size of the taxi market by restricting its supply. When service gets bad, people give up on the idea of taking a cab. You certainly cannot just stick out your hand a hail a cab here as you can in Central London or Manhattan. New Yorkers don’t own cars because they don’t need them. They walk a lot more than most Americans, have the subway and there’s always lots of cabs. And in suburban London and much of the rest of New York there are alternatives – minicabs in the UK, gypsies in the US. Both a response to over restrictive licensing and lack of availability of service in these areas.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2007 at 10:19 am