Local developer, writer and resident Michael Geller has written a compelling commentary in the Vancouver Courier about Vancouver’s lack of taxi culture.
Talking about taxis is interesting. Everyone has a strong reaction to the topic. I have to admit my bias-I love taking taxis anywhere in the world, but not in Vancouver. I have taken a taxi driven by a famous jazz musician in Chicago, and been driven by the coach of the British Olympic Rowing Team in London. Perhaps the best experience was a cab driver in Nevis that taught me Nevis’ National Anthem during the ride.
In Vancouver, the city regulates taxi cabs. There is a taxi cab detail at the Vancouver Police Department, and you can call 311 and report bad behaviour of cab drivers. I have had cab drivers follow my car home when they felt I had cut them off in my car, and I have had cab drivers refuse to pick up senior citizens because the trip was too short. I am always apprehensive about getting a cab, because there is no uniformity of service. And I do feel uncomfortable getting in a cab and having the driver talk away on his cell phone while driving. I would much rather walk or take transit.
Thirty years ago I was in Council chambers when then Mayor Gordon Campbell asked the taxi detail the cost of taxi licenses. It was interesting to listen to, because the cab companies would not disclose what the value of each license was. At that time it was assumed that the licenses were trading around $800,000 each. That is a lot of money, but then again, driving a cab is a cash business, and cabs can be in operation for 24 hours a day.
Earlier this year I went to a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre with a friend who is in his 90’s. At the end of the performance, my friend told me he had reserved a cab. He knew the dispatcher, and he was sure the cab would come for him. I later found out that this elderly man waited two hours before slowly walking on two canes back to his apartment which took another hour. The senior had called the dispatcher repeatedly, and been repeatedly told yes, the taxi was coming. It never did.
Part of a mature urban city is a taxi service that is convenient, reliable, comfortable and uniform. Michael Geller has written another piece on the need to improve Vancouver’s broken taxi system in January 2015 following an SFU City Program discussion on Uber.
Michael notes “Having often waited for a cab, I was not surprised to learn Vancouver has the lowest ratio of taxis per capita of any major Canadian city, and fares are approximately 15 per cent higher. I found it significant that not one new taxi company had been allowed to enter the Vancouver market in 25 years. Compare this with any other retail or service industry.
I have again been thinking about taxis since attending a recent Greater Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon with Peter Gall, Q.C., counsel to the Vancouver Taxi Association. The session was billed as an opportunity for the association to present its solutions to better meet the needs of the public.For many years, the Board of Trade has had concerns about the taxi industry. Under president and CEO Iain Black, it commissioned a paper that revealed Vancouver would need to add 1,900 new taxis just to meet what is on the road in Calgary.
It went on to recommend a number of changes to the regulatory framework which would allow taxis and ride sharing services to co-exist.While many in attendance at the Board of Trade luncheon wanted to see major changes and improvements, Mr. Gall was protective of the industry, noting that taxi drivers have invested $500 million in the 800 licenses currently in existence.Many challenged this position, noting that in other sunset industries, investors have lost out when their industry became obsolete. Just ask the owners of Blockbuster Video.If Vancouver is to truly become a less car-oriented region, we must improve our taxi system. Hopefully, the province will pay attention to the Board of Trade’s recommendations.”