Rhino's Ramblings - Someone Call Me A Cab
By Robert Thomas - Opinion/Commentary
It has to be the biggest concern raised to MJ Independent this week and that are the new rules and regulations as they relate to taxis, shuttles and limousines as the City of Moose Jaw's taxi bylaw kicks in.
The bylaw, years in the making, has drawn some fairly strong behind the scenes fire from those in the industry who are now realizing the impact it is going to have on their personal businesses.
It has been a sudden realization that some are not only looking at new rules costing them additional money and in the end cost jobs as well as reduce the number of licensed taxis in the city.
The exact opposite of what the bylaw was suppose to do in the first place.
If what the taxi industry has told me is correct in the end there may well be less, and not more, service at the end of it all.
Most of the drivers and business owners in the industry – which has over a dozen players in it – see the regulations as mean spirited, unnecessary and simply put in place to allow ride sharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Bolt access to the Moose Jaw market at their expense.
The new rules under the bylaw they claim are too rigorous and expensive for what has been a highly competitive unregulated marketplace for decades. Rules many say will thwart their expansion plans and in some instances have the potential to reduce their fleet sizes to only one car.
First off the block was Abilities Transport who ran into troubles by not having a commercial office something required under the Bylaw if any company runs more than one unit.
It has drawn the ire of a couple of smaller operators who have written the City to complain.
These are firms with either one vehicle in their fleet and looking to expand or they already have a couple of cars out on the road at the present time.
Having a commercial office and dispatch to them is a business killer as it means added expense making the expansion to multiple vehicles less or worse yet not profitable.
As someone told me, that has two cars, they hire a driver only for the weekend peak times and during the week, when taxis were not in such high demand, the vehicle is parked.
Dispatch for them was not a dedicated office but rather was over the cell phone. A call would come on and whichever unit was closest and able to get to the fare quickest was simply dispatched there.
It is the use of today's technology unlike the past where people telephoned a central office and then a dispatcher would get a hold of a driver to pick up the fare. Technology along with the size of the taxi, shuttle and limousine company meant they did not need nor require the added expense of having a dispatcher nor hiring one.
Under the rules put forth by the new Bylaw many are seeing this as unfair and not knowledgeable on how the actual industry has functioned over the last few years.
Others point to how the rules take aim at them, open the market up to ride share competitors and worse yet make it easier for the unlicensed, gypsy or scab cabs to swoop in and steal their fares.
The last point about the unlicensed has been a major sore point in the industry for years who have seen, in their opinion, the City, SGI and the Moose Jaw Police Services (MJPS) do little if anything to combat the unlicensed operators steal their fares often right in front of them.
There is a feeling in the city that so long as the ride is done on a donations basis it is legal. The fact of the matter is under the rules it is not.
For example if someone were to drive you as a passenger through a donation service if there were an accident the paying passenger would be covered under SGI's standard no fault injury coverage whereas the operator of the vehicle would not have insurance coverage.
It’s an area many in the city have called a grey area when a chat with SGI will tell you it is not.
The donation or suggested donation route to circumvent the licensing rules has never existed.
Calling yourself a volunteer also does not meet the muster if there is any type of cash or remuneration being transferred.
Under the new Bylaw the question many asked me is it going to be enforced? There are some provisions now for fining individuals and companies but most of the legitimate operators in the industry I spoke with felt the rules would ironically only target them.
Some have even done the leg work for the MJPS only to be told nothing was going to be done or the complainants could not even get past the dispatch to reach officers who had promised to help.
There is not much hope in the industry there will be any enforcement given the past history many legitimate businesses have experienced when reporting their concerns to the MJPS.
For them, in their opinion, their concerns were simply ignored. Being legitimate and following the rules just does not to seem to pay off.
But by far the most grinding thing about the entire Taxi, Shuttle and Limousine Bylaw has been the total lack of consultation in formulating the bylaw and then once passed the industry was not even given the courtesy of being notified about it.
I can personally say myself I was sitting in Council when I heard Director of Planning Michelle Sanson say Administration had contacted all of the taxi firms.
But I can also say I did ask the late Timothy Robinson who until his passing operated Ricky's Rocket Shuttle Service if he had been contacted and the answer was no.
It is the same response I received from at least two other companies I spoke to this week. They had not been consulted during the formulation of the new rules nor had they been informed about the changes.
When I cornered them and said it may have been published in the Moose Jaw Express or the City's web-site the response was they had missed any notice.
And then they said something I have heard lots in the last year and a bit and that is since the demise of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald they no longer pay attention to the news anymore except what they see on television.
For some firms though they do admit they had received a notice from the Special Needs Advisory Committee about transporting people with disabilities. It is something I was able to confirm this past week.
Sadly though out of all of the notices sent out to the industry only one firm – Yes Taxi – bothered to attend where they told the citizen's committee all about their fee structure as well as their business.
With all of this said the pushback from the industry now to be heard on the Bylaw ranges from single vehicle and driver proprietor firms right up to multi-vehicle fleets who are telling the City privately the new Bylaw as well as the push towards ride sharing is at best a major expense tough to swallow right up to likely the last straw which will close their doors.
It is something the City sought to avoid when they developed the new Bylaw but in reality they may soon be facing unless there is some type of conversation, temporary suspension and breathing room to allow the industry to adapt.
If Mayor Fraser Tolmie and Councillor Dawn Luhning along with Administration can hold a conference call with the president of Uber Canada can they not reciprocate and do something similar for people right in their own city?
Uber or its affiliates may not be coming to Moose Jaw for a few months but if what I am hearing is correct and some firms reduce or shutdown completely finding a taxi in Moose Jaw might be a notoriously hard thing to do.
And that, I personally believe by sitting through the formulation of the two bylaws is not what the City wanted but may well end up with.