Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Taxi industry needs a complete overhaul, not just help for passengers

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Vancouver Sun editorial

I get worried when I find myself agreeing with Sun editorials. I passed on the original story since I did not want to give Kevin Falcon more attention than he deserves. A minister deciding to do something about a long standing problem because he was personally inconvenienced is, what I believe, a “soft target”. And it is not the Minister that is the problem. For whatever reason he at least sees the need to do something.

About time too. The taxi industry in BC has needed radical reform for many years and there have been several reviews in recent years, and I participated in most of them. But not much changed. And I could get into the reasons for that too, about small groups of well connected people who make a lot of money and are generous supporters of political parties (note the plural). But that just tells you why we are in a mess. And unlike the Sun, I want to talk about what we could do about it.

Taxis have to be regulated. Experiments with Hayek like deregulation elsewhere have been complete disasters and mostly reversed swiftly. Not only do taxi passengers’ rights need protecting so do taxi drivers’. Since they are not the ones making lots of money. If that were the case the taxi driver would not likely be a recent immigrant. Or someone well qualified to do something else but unable to break down the protectionist barriers put up by the self regulating professions.

But the regulation should not be directed at controlling the number of taxis. It is very difficult indeed to determine how many taxis are needed, since that number fluctuates wildly depending on the seasons, time of day and state of the weather. The present system prescribes one number all year round, and limits them to picking up fares in one municipality.

The Sun asks why that should be. And the answer is two fold. Firstly taxis are licensed on the recommendation of municipalities. Secondly, there is a fear that if taxis could roam freely picking up fares anywhere there would be glut in downtown Vancouver and the airport and none in the suburbs. Actually that is the situation here now – just not quite as extreme, but still observable. There is nearly always a long line of taxis waiting at the airport and the cruise ship terminal, and it is just about impossible to flag a cab on the street outside of downtown. And even if you do, they will almost certainly refuse to take you anywhere but the nearest SkyTrain station if you want a long ride.

But it is not just Important People who are inconvenienced. There is a whole community who depend on taxis. People who cannot drive themselves or cannot afford a car but need door to door service – some every day and some just to bring home the groceries. Some have disabilities, some are just infirm, many have very limited incomes. And I worked with a number of groups trying to get more taxi licences to meet the needs of this part of the community and got nowhere – well, not very far anyway. I was actually paid a fee by one taxi company to repeat the same evidence I had given in support fo a new service to provide shared rides for people with disabilities seeking treatment (turned down) to an application to buy more accessible minivan type taxis favoured by the cruise ship crowd as they carry more baggage (approved).

And I do not have space to repeat here all the evidence given by people in wheelchairs, or the blind, about the way they are treated by taxi drivers. Just to note that many who are on the list of essential service handiDART users will not accept a ride in a cab if one is sent instead of the handiDART van. And the lovely lady from the CNIB who stood at the side of the road waiting to be picked up by a booked taxi which just drove past her – because she has a guide dog.

The solution has been working in London since 1865. A metropolitan licensing system that is based solely on quality not quantity. Of cabs and drivers. Very stiff tests are prescribed by incorruptible officials for both vehicles and cabbies. Anyone can be a cabbie in London if they can meet the standards. Fares are strictly regulated, but entry into the market isn’t. And cabbies can work when they want to, and will enter and leave the market as demand rises and falls, working part time and having other businesses and occupations to fall back on.

It does not meet all needs. Shared ride services – mainly for hospitals and similar health and welfare agencies – are also needed. Minicabs – hire cars that must be pre-booked and cannot be hailed from the curb – do a lot of work too, but provide a lower level of service. All the black cabs are now accessible, very few minicabs are.

London cabs used to be regulated by the Home Office. Which meant over time many of the regulations were anachronistic. Recent reforms put cabs where they should be – under Transport for London and the Mayor. The Greater London Authority is what the GVRD and GVTA should be: directly elected to handle region wide services that are too big for the local municipalities which still exist to provide local services (in London 33 Cities and Boroughs) .

So Kevin gets another plane trip. That’s alright. I don’t begrudge him his business class seats and posh hotel. Just as long as he does something effective when he gets back. A passenger charter is a Good Start. But it is only scratching the surface. (He might like to revive the one I tried to write for the GVTA.) Since he wants to reform GVTA, perhaps he could step back a bit from his current efforts to demolish the last vestiges of local control, and have a real think about what might actually work in the public interest.

UPDATE Jan 31 0853 The Vancouver Sun covers this in their “latest news” section on line – so I presumed that it is not in the print version – but the smae headline is apparently on the front page. So I will no longer trust the “posted one hour ago” tag on those top of the page items. Perhaps it simply indicates a story that has been corrected or updated? Maybe a Canwest employee reading this can let me know.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 1, 2007 at 8:26 am

Posted in regional government, taxi, Transportation

Tagged with

6 Responses

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  1. The Vancouver Sun Business Section says “Shortage of taxis expected today
    Four cruise ships at Vancouver docks bring in 8,800 passengers”

    The story points out that Vancouver has 481 taxis

    Paul Teichroeb, co-director of licensing and inspections for the City of Vancouver added that the city will add extra traffic and parking enforcement staff to minimize traffic disruptions that could slow taxi traffic in and out of the cruise terminals.

    More taxis would help the situation, and the city has recommended adding 111 new licenses to the city’s fleet, but the decision to approve those licences rests with the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board.

    Teichroeb said the city had hoped to have the new licenses in place by May 1.

    Stephen Rees

    May 4, 2007 at 11:55 am

  2. And today we get a story about how bad it was yesterday

    Stephen Rees

    May 5, 2007 at 10:58 am

  3. […] I have long argued that the model we should adopt here is the one used in London – but hardly anywhere else! Getting a black cab license is very difficult. But it is not regulated by quantity as it is here (which gives rise to a market in scarce cab licenses) but by quality. The driver has to pass the “knowledge”- which takes at least two years of full time study and the vehicle must meet rigorous inspection and specification standards. It is by no means a perfect system, as minicabs are also needed to provide lower cost service in the suburbs. But it does mean that drivers can make a decent living – and work as and when they want to, which means more cabs appear on the streets at times when demand is high (but not when it is raining for some reason). And regulation is now under the aegis of Transport for London – and thus the Mayor. […]

  4. Hello,

    I finally devised a system designed to inspire competition in this industry, invoke better customer service, completely eliminated no-shows and hailing as two of the worst problems in this industry. People do not want to stand out in the cold or rain to hail a taxi and they certainly don’t want to walk several blocks at 3am to catch one. So, we took Fleet tracking services and reversed their functionality and we are going to offer CabDaddyGPS as a service for which the location of GPS enabled Taxis, tow trucks, limos, shuttles, city buses, etc back to the consumer for consumption, but on their terms. No longer will the consumer of such for-hire services be tied to extreme situations of waiting for long periods of time. The consumer will be able to find the nearest taxi to their current location via their cellphone, PDA, laptop, desktop and with our CALL NOW button, call that driver directly to schedule an immediate pickup. When the ride is accepted by the consumer, an email is sent automatically to dispatch alerting them of the fare. There are many more features as well, including a credit card terminal emulator that can be used via the customers phone, the cabbys, or remotely to pay the fare and it includes a fare and tip entry field. So if you guys want it in Canada or if you think its neccessary there, please let me know…That is very useful information. I am beginning to think that this industry is broken the world over. Thank you for this great article..Have a great day.

    Sam Hyatt

    Sam Hyatt

    May 20, 2008 at 4:21 am

  5. […] ride taxis” in the search box in the right hand column.  So it starts with a plea to do a real reform of taxi regulation mainly to improve service but also to allow for shared rides. There’s a link to a story […]

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