Stephen Rees's blog

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

Taking taxis not easy for visitors to Vancouver

with 4 comments

Vancouver Sun

Last year, Kevin Falcon was inconvenienced when a taxi refused to take him to Surrey. So he brought in the taxi passengers “charter of rights” which obliges taxi drivers to do what they have always been obliged to do under the law. Which has made not the slightest difference to anything.

Now Kevin seemingly has not had time to take a cruise this year, so presumably he is unaware of the two hour waits that those poor unfortunates have been forced to endure at the cruise ship terminals. So both (port CEO) Gordon Houston and (Mayor) Sam Sullivan are trying to put the pressure on the provincial Passenger Transport Board to increase the number of taxi licenses.

This is not a new issue by any means – at least ten years to my direct knowledge, and actually much longer as the records of the PTB and its predecessor the MCC will show. And there is no mention of that in this short piece. So there is no analysis here of why this situation has arisen or why it persists, or indeed what the impact is on people, who live here all the time and are not just passing through but have too much luggage to use an airport shuttle bus.

Taxis are actually used by people who cannot drive – often for a combination of physical as well as economic issues. They are very important to people with disabilities, who have to use them simply because handyDART is so inadequate. People on low incomes who cannot afford a car will often use a taxi to help bring home the weekly groceries. So taxis are not just the preserve of the wealthy, the business travellers at the airport or the late night drunks who are sufficiently compos mentis not to drive themselves home.

The reason why more licenses are not issued is that existing licences have a high market value – simply because they are in short supply. Often the license holder no longer needs to drive a taxi (an uncertain source of income at best) because they make so much from renting out their licences. And this group is very well connected politically, and the legislation under which taxis operate has always favoured them. Issuing more licences would devalue the existing ones, and that is an economic impact that the licensing scheme is designed to protect. And despite a long history of studies, nothing much is going to change, as long as some key constituencies depend on the ability of some groups to turn out the vote. That is a political reality that never gets mentioned in any of the reports produced on the topic, because it is too difficult for any politician to tackle head on.

There are a number of solutions – deregulation being the least likely and most disruptive. The one I favour and have argued for is the London solution. But because it is unique to London, no one else wants to try it. London black cabs are heavily regulated – but their numbers are not limited. Taxi drivers have to pass a very stiff test – it usually takes two years to qualify. And the taxis themselves have to meet very stringent standards. Fares are also regulated. But once you have a license and a licensed cab, you decide when you work. So the number on the street fluctuates, and after a while tends to reflect predictable changes in demand. It still means though that you cannot get a cab if it is raining or when the shifts change mid afternoon. And there is a now regulated but less stringent hire car license (also known as mini cabs) which tend to serve the suburbs, as wall as specific services for the disabled (although every back cab is also accessible).

Chances of something changing in time for the next cruise ship season? None. There is an election coming up which looks like it will be a close run thing. Not the time for basic reforms in politically sensitive areas. Maybe a few more licenses for vans – which while they look like they are for wheelchairs spend most of their time shuttling between the airport and the cruise ship terminal. The tips are better.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 2, 2008 at 12:17 pm

Posted in taxi

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4 Responses

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  1. Southampton city council, ABP (Associated British Ports) and the city taxi association, meet at the start of the cruise ship season, to make sure that enough taxis are available on each day the ships are in, only twice (when four ships have been in at the same time) have not enough taxis been available, problem was solved by a coach link with the train station


    September 3, 2008 at 12:12 pm

  2. There is a coach link to the airport from downtown Vancouver. It picks up at the major hotels – two of which are adjacent to the cruise ship terminal. I have been told, by the taxi operators, that passengers on cruise ships have too much baggage for coaches.

    Stephen Rees

    September 3, 2008 at 1:27 pm

  3. must depend on the coach as the coaches used didn’t seem to have a problem, all lok how much stuff the national express coach can carry


    September 4, 2008 at 11:52 am

  4. I don’t think the coaches are the problem. I suspect the existing taxi operators are just protecting what they see as their turf

    Stephen Rees

    September 4, 2008 at 1:36 pm

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