News Local

Taxi decisions deferred by city council 0 

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Monday, April 16, 2012 11:39:32 EDT PM


The meter is running on Barrie's taxi industry.

City councillors decided Monday to defer any changes to the taxi bylaw - including a moratorium on new taxicab licences, capping them on a per capita ratio, reducing the taxicab licensing fee and making taxis safer - until its April 23 meeting.

Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth turned Monday's discussion on its ear by suggesting taxi fares in Barrie are too high, and that by her calculations a round trip from Pine Drive in south-Barrie to a Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in the north-end costs about $94

Erwin Giles, Barrie Taxi president, who made a deputation to council Monday on changes to the bylaw, said this was unfair.

"I feel you have ambushed me here," he said. "I have had no time to look at this."

Ainsworth handed out a memo with a number of taxi trips in Barrie, what they cost and compared them to taxi rides in Waterloo and Toronto.

Taxis fares are not being recommended by staff for change, and Giles countered that Barrie's Taxis' average fare this March was $15.40 for a five-kilometre trip.

But Ainsworth did not let up.

"You like to put the problems of the taxi industry on government," she said. "But your excessive profit margins have invited carpet bagging conduct."

Giles wants the taxi bylaw to say if the meter isn't on, the ride is free. Inside each taxi, visible to any passenger, would be a sign saying that. This will help get rid of cabbies charging a flat rate.

"Those that cannot compete based on service use illegal inducements such as flat rates and discounts in an attempt to build a clientele," he said.

"There is no way a taxi operator can do trips for $10 that would run $20 on the meter and remit the HST that is included in the fare and cover their licencing, fuel and insurance costs, dispatch fees, driver income, unexpected breakdowns, vehicle replacement costs and perform the regular maintenance that ensures the safety of their cab."

Next Monday's general committee meeting discussion on changes to the taxi bylaw is almost certain to include fares.

Taxi fares in Barrie are $3.25 for the first tenth of a kilometre and 30 cents for each additional tenth of a kilometre.

Giles also wants to change having the 911 emergency light as a minimum safety feature.

Instead there should be a choice of one of the available safety features - a 911 light (with a sticker saying call 911 when flashing), a shield between the drivers and passengers, security cameras or an emergency button connected to the cab company's central dispatch system, using GPS technology.

Giles says there serious limitations to just the 911 light, even though its low cost makes it popular. He points out someone has to see the light flashing and actually call 911, and there has been little public education on how to respond to the flashing light.

Each Barrie Taxi cab is equipped with a GPS emergency button, located out of view of the passenger. Once it's activated, a signal is immediately sent to the dispatcher and all order-takers on duty.

Barrie Taxi is doing a $250,000 dispatching infrastructure upgrade, as well as a pilot project on 13 cabs with cameras.

The company has 70-80 cabs, about 120 drivers and 23 people in the offices. The cabs have self-employed independent operators who own the cabs, paint them Barrie Taxi colours and pay the company a weekly fee to get calls 24/7.

Giles also says the increasing number of taxis in Barrie isn't due to higher demand, but because the regulations have been so lax.

Melvin Woods, part-owner of Deluxe Taxi, has said his biggest issue with Barrie's taxi bylaw is it isn't enforced.

The city is planning to increase enforcement with $25,000 added to the overtime budget for 15 hours a month - beyond the regular hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Deluxe sent a memo to council supporting no new taxi companies in the city, and that all must maintain a permanent dispatch office manned 24/7. The company also said existing licensing fees are too high and that rate increases have been excessive. It would also like to see regulation of the taxi industry returned to Barrie police, instead of city hall.

Deluxe employs 14 people in its offices, has 40 taxis on the road and 80 drivers.

Councillors are also considering reducing the taxicab licensing fee to $340 annually from $389 and scrapping the $209 taxicab fee (for having safety features) - which is where having a 911 emergency light as a minimum safety feature comes in. Tinted windows and decals which reduce transparency would be banned.

Last year in Barrie 159 taxis were inspected, with 88 passing and the rest ticketed for violations - although most had the problems fixed within 48 hours.

An open house on Barrie's taxi industry last fall revealed a long list of concerns, from the large number of taxis here and lack of enforcement to meter rates that are too high and expensive licensing fees.