Stephen Rees's blog

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

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

with 5 comments


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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5 Responses

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  1. Well said, Stephen. My Uncle has driven taxi in Vancouver for 18 years. He doesn’t own his own vehicle, works four nights a week, 12 hours a night and probably makes the equivalent of ten an hour on average excluding tips.
    He never refuses a fare to outside the city, and naturally is bothered to no end by those drivers who do.
    Personally, unless it’s his cab, I avoid taking taxi’s unless there is absolutely no alternative. I’m fortunate enough to be physically mobile and would even be willing to walk a mile or two to avoid it. The last straw was a driver who tried to steer a ridiculously circuitous route home from the Pacific Central Station to my place in East Van. When I politely suggested he might try a quicker route, he became quite indignant and said things like “you don’t know the way”.
    In this new Bill of Rights, the driver’s also have “rights”, one of them is the right to refuse service if the passenger is acting in an “offensive manner.”
    I expect drivers like the one I described, and those who refuse trips outside the city, to pull the “they were behaving offensively” card to continue their rude practices.
    I only hope everyone who gets a cab is fortunate enough to have my Uncle as their driver. You’re right, these things should not need to be spelled out like this, the taxi service in this city is largely a joke.


    January 30, 2008 at 1:07 pm

  2. You are right to admonish me for leaving out the driver’s rights. I have always been more concerned about passengers. But the economic pressures on the drivers – and the lack of choice for users – is what allowed the situation to get so far out of hand for so long. I think fundamental reform is needed.

    Stephen Rees

    January 30, 2008 at 1:32 pm

  3. I have to agree with Keefer’s point on the rights of the drivers, but I seriously advocate for those rights only in the cases of awesome cab drivers — his uncle would fit this category. Nevertheless, I do find cab drivers who want to take advantage of me, and it does bother me.

    I normally only take cabs under extreme circumstances. For example, last week I was walking home but it was really cold, so I took a cab. Other time, I was late for a meeting so I had to take the cab.

    🙂 But I can tell you this much – I really liked that you indicated our rights as passengers! Hopefully the world is filled with good passengers and good cab drivers.


    January 30, 2008 at 3:44 pm

  4. I agree completely with this post. I take cabs every week (don’t own a car) and can’t believe how bad the service generally is. It’s not really the individual drivers as much as a system which provides no incentives for innovative, quality service. I often get complaints about paying with a credit card, and of course it takes 10 mins for them to process because they haven’t invested in technology to make payment easy. I often get put on hold trying to book a cab, requests for a hybrid vehicle are almost always ignored, drivers expect large tips etc etc.

    There needs to be deregulation of this industry and more competition. It’s unbelievable that there is essentially a monopoly on a service that is in such high demand.

    Kevin Lonergan

    January 30, 2008 at 8:35 pm

  5. On the CBC News this evening a couple more items were added. There will be fines for taxi drivers who do not abide by the code – and “sting” operations to make sure they do. It did not say who would be responsible for either.

    I twice gave evidence to the BC Motor Carrier Commission (the predecessor of the BCPTB) as an expert witness on the need for more taxi service in this region. I was also a member of the Taxi Industry Advisory Committee, set up by MoTH and the MCC.

    Stephen Rees

    January 30, 2008 at 8:51 pm

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