Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 30th, 2008

B.C. introduces taxi passenger’s bill of rights

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About bloody time too! All of these issues have been around for years. There is also a need to see something done to effectively enforce these rights, which is not helped by the current arrangements which divide responsibilities between the municipalities and the BC Passenger Transport Board. And of course, you should always start with the company operating the cab – make a note of the cab number, they should know who was supposed to have been driving at the time.

The passengers’ rights are:

  • Be picked up and transported to their stated destination by any available on-duty taxi driver.
  • Pay the posted rate by cash, or accepted credit card or taxi-saver voucher.
  • A courteous driver who provides assistance, if requested.
  • Travel with an assistance dog or portable mobility aid.
  • A taxi that is clean, smoke-free and in good repair.
  • Direct the route, or expect the most economical route.
  • A quiet atmosphere, upon request.
  • A detailed receipt, when requested.

What of course is amazing is that these basic customer service principles have to be spelled out, but each is indicative of a shocking record. Every time I read a report of s surprise on road inspection (and there are not nearly enough of those) dangerous cabs are ordered off the road. Refusal to accept taxi savers (used by the disabled as an alternative to handyDART when a van is not available), not helping passengers who need assistance to get in and out of the cab or to and from the front door, refusing to take guide and assistance dogs and refusing to go where the passenger asks to go were constant complaints that I saw at Translink. And just in case you think my complaints are just about the needs of the aged and disabled, I was refused a trip from the MoT office in Burnaby to the Helijet very early on in my career in BC. The driver said he wanted to go off duty soon and did not want to have to go to Vancouver where he is not allowed to pick up passengers. He took me to the SkyTrain at Metrotown – which was actually quicker and cheaper – but that is not the point!

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.

The real problem here is that no-one who has a choice would want to be a taxi driver. If you do not own a license (and that usually requires a mortgage on your house to buy one) you have to rent one, and a cab, and pay for gas, insurance, dispatch fees and so on. And all that is paid up front before you pick up a single passenger. If a cab driver is lucky he might make minimum wage. Only the very privileged get the premium work – airport to downtown is the best, and produces the biggest tips.

The lack of cabs in this region has reduced the size of the market. People here have got much more creative about avoiding the need for a cab – because they have had no choice. And anyone who tries to expand that choice will come under fervent opposition from the existing licence holders, whose only interest is in protecting the value of their investment. Service to the public does not even get considered. Or the role that hired vehicles could play in reducing the need for car ownership.

UPDATE Feb 2 – Miro Certenig thinks drivers will find a way around the bill

Written by Stephen Rees

January 30, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Posted in taxi, Transportation

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Travel in metro yesterday

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The media are full of reports about conditions yesterday. A snow storm led to very poor driving conditions – and once again demonstrated that all seasons radials are not the best choice for driving on snow and ice. Richmond did not get many of its arterials salted and at 10.00 am Garden City south of Granville had heavily impacted snow as it is a bus route. I could see no evidence of salt or sand, let alone a plough.

West Coast Express was disrupted by a CP derailment near Second Narrows, that got a lot of coverage on CBC News last night. What impresses me is the way that Doug Kelsey shows up, and not only does a stand up in the snow interview but helps direct passengers and provides information. Can anyone remember any other CEO of Translink or its subsidairies doing anything similar? Or even senior office staff?

I must admit that I only ever tried once, in my early days at BC Transit. At that time I used a combination of the SkyTrain and the #410 to commute between Richmond and Gateway. An even longer wait than usual at 22nd Street Station, and a long line up, prompted me to go back into the station and pick up the white phone to find out what was going on. I learned there had been a collision on the east-west connector, which was taking some time to clear. I went back to the queue, and made an announcement. The crowd turned on me – furious – spluttering. “That’s completely unacceptable!” was the mildest expression. Obviously it was my fault, and the fact that I could not conjure a bus out of thin air was my worst failing. Fortunately, a bus arrived within a few minutes – but I let it go to get a seat on the next one! It seemed safer. I never again mentioned I worked for BC Transit while waiting for a bus.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 30, 2008 at 11:08 am

Posted in transit