Brandon’s taxi industry lacks leadership ever since the city’s taxi association was dismantled, according to a local cab company owner.
Doug Clark, owner of 1-United Taxi Group in Brandon, said Brandon’s taxi cab association fell apart four or five years ago after former association president Bryan Edwards stepped down.
After several attempts to spearhead an association comprised of local cab company owners, Clark found that not all of them were willing to participate. Without all of them involved they can’t make any changes to the city’s already existing 16-page taxi bylaw, Clark said.
“Majority in this case shouldn’t be the rule,” he said. “Everybody should be in agreement and on the same page because there’s a lot of changes needed in the business, but unfortunately some of them just don’t seem to want to be involved in it.”
Without an official taxi cab association, cab companies would have to come together and approach city council with an amendment to the taxi bylaw, according to City of Brandon bylaw compliance clerk Jared Jaffray.
“In terms of them adding or taking away anything from the bylaw, they would have to come to a concensus,” Jaffray said. “Here we have the bylaw and if they want anything changed, they have to apply for it.”
Unlike Winnipeg, taxis in Brandon aren’t regulated by the province, despite the city’s effort to transfer ownership over to them. In 2009, the province denied a request from the City of Brandon for Manitoba to take over regulation of Brandon’s taxi industry. At the time, then-transportation minister Ron Lemieux told the Sun that it’s a “historic anomaly” Winnipeg’s taxis are regulated by the province. He said municipalities across Canada are required to look after their own taxi industry.
The only provincial regulations that come into play in Brandon are when taxi drivers take passengers outside the city. Then, a provincially mandated fee per kilometre takes effect and cannot be discounted without the risk of the driver losing their licence to work outside of the city.
Earlier this month, the province announced plans to make cab drivers more responsible for seeing discharged hospital patients across their thresholds, following the deaths of three patients in Winnipeg. But even if the province decides to move forward with such a policy, it won’t effect Brandon’s taxi industry.
Taxis in Winnipeg are regulated under the province’s Taxicab Board, which conducts public hearings on matters relating to the industry and its users. The board, comprised of seven members including one city councillor and one Winnipeg Police Service member, issues taxicab licences and regulates their number, regulates fare rates and acts as a liaison between the board and Winnipeg’s taxi cab industry, governments and other affected groups.
In Brandon, Jaffray said cab companies and drivers are expected to comply with the city’s taxi bylaw, which was established in 2008. And under these bylaws, taxi business licensing is conducted through the city’s treasury department.
The last time the bylaw was updated was in 2013 when cab companies rallied together to seek a 60 cent fare increase. City council later approved the increase to $3.80 from $3.20. That has been the local industry’s only increase over the last five years.
Clark said not having a local taxi association is “hurting everybody overall.” After many failed attempts to try and arrange a meeting with local cab company owners, he’s “completely frustrated” and is now considering selling his 10-year-old business before the end of this year.
“We understand the city doesn’t want to put the cost into overseeing the taxi industry but somebody has to oversee it,” he said. “I’m not going to wait another five years and keep fighting this.”
However, city staff are currently performing an internal review of the taxi industry, according to city treasurer Dean Hammond.
Hammond said he plans on meeting with city treasury and bylaw staff to see if there are any issues they want to pursue. They will then meet with the taxi industry to hear its concerns.
There are currently about 133 taxis registered for permits within the city. As of now, Brandon has no cap on the number of licences companies can obtain.
In the past, critics and members of the taxi industry have questioned whether the number of cabs is too high, as it is well above the industry benchmark of one cab for every 1,000 people.
Hammond said putting a cap on the number of cabs could be up for discussion at the meeting with industry members in the next month or so.
The gathering could also give Clark a chance to discuss how certain cab companies are offering customers discounted rates for certain trips. Clark said some companies offer $5 to $10 flat rates from local grocery stores and Brandon’s Maple Leaf plant. While this is consistant with the city’s taxi bylaw, Clark said he refuses to go that route.
“We’ve found a pretty good market in the city,” he said, “people who appreciate a better service. And as little as it is, it’s enough to keep us going.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 15, 2014