Over the course of 2011, the City of Saskatoon and members of the industry will work together to implement a handful of policies to improve safety and customer service.
These include mandatory English training and testing, vehicle age-limits and the establishment of a Taxi Review Board to handle licensing duties and serve as an external body that oversees the industry.
On top of those changes, as of March 1, the on-going controversy over taxi stands will find some closure. The downtown stands were previously contracted out to the companies, but will open up for a trial period to all companies. The United Group claims that the stands belong to them, as they have been paying the city to use them privately for more than 40 years.
The new regulations stem from concerns over the cloudiness surrounding the city’s taxi industry, a public service that both citizens and visitors of Saskatoon rely on, especially in the winter. Currently there are three registered broker companies that licence cabs in the city — United, Saskatoon Radio Cabs and Comfort Cabs — and besides having to run a record check on employees, each company is left to set their own driver and vehicle standards.
In 2010, the city called on Tennessee-based urban transportation expert Ray Mundy to conduct an in-depth analysis on the current condition of the industry. His report to City Council emphasized that it is in the public’s interest that the city “lightly” regulate the industry, and gave several recommendations for the future.
We obviously want what’s right for the industry, but ultimately regulating the industry is going to increase the costs.
-Troy Larmer, United Group general manager
Primarily, Mundy suggested the city establish a Taxi Regulatory Board that “would not be a decision-making body but rather an advisory board.” He also suggested phasing-in regulation on fleet age, driver appearance, the installation of in-cab cameras and opening-up taxi stands to more companies. Almost all the recommendations have now passed through Council.
United Group president Scott Suppes views any regulation from an external body as interference and commented in response to Mundy’s report that “to say that a level of government should mandate these things as well as creating an office in charge of enforcing these changes is taking away the right of a company to manage itself accordingly.”
But it remains unclear if private broker companies are capable of monitoring themselves.
Horror-stories involving broken-down taxis, thefts and angry drivers are common around Saskatoon.
In one instance, University of Saskatchewan commerce student Sarah Romanuck got into a dispute with a driver after he refused to make two stops in one trip. She and a friend eventually had to pay for two separate trips, and when they asked for his name the driver became distressed and locked them in the vehicle. Eventually the police came to the scene, but they did not recommend filing charges against the driver.
“I was talking to the officer and this type of thing has been happening a lot lately with taxi drivers… Since it was just our word versus his, they felt it would not hold up in court,” Romanuck explained.
The Taxi Review Board could be used to hear cases like Romanuck’s. Implementation of the Board is scheduled to happen by Dec. 31, 2011, however, some councillors are still unconvinced of the need to form a regulatory committee at this time.
“Personally, I am in complete favour of it,” said Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill. “I think a committee comprised of stake holders from the industry, the City, as well as the general public would be a great body to look at issues particular to the taxi industry.”
With only three more recommendations yet to be approved, United Group general manager Troy Larmer promises they will not stop lobbying.
“We obviously want what’s right for the industry, but ultimately regulating the industry is going to increase the costs. The regulations imposed are not solving the problems of trying to decrease wait times and increase the level of service. They just cost the tax-payer.”
City administration will continue to review the final three recommendations regarding service delivery, monies investigation and lease agreements, while the Taxi Regulatory Board remains green-lit, barring no set backs before 2012.
image: Pete Yee/The Sheaf