Criticism of the taxi industry was front and centre at Tuesday’s (June 15) Kamloops council meeting — and the city is now looking at potentially instituting a local taxi commission to oversee operations.
During council discussion on renewal of the city’s annual operating agreement with BC Transit, Coun. Sadie Hunter questioned the length of time taken to ensure taxi companies are operating wheelchair-accessible vehicles, which are relied upon by residents with mobility issues.
Taxi companies are required to operate such vehicles as part of their taxi licensing, regulated by B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Board.
“Quite frankly, it’s ridiculous,” Hunter said. “This impacts people’s lives from day to day and we [the city and BC Transit] just continue to offer service to them and expand the service in a way that’s just not even feasible or viable.”
The city’s public transportation system relies on taxi companies via a taxi saver program, which involves subsidized taxi vouchers provided to people when the HandyDart service cannot accommodate their travel needs.
Prior to the pandemic, Hunter said, HandyDart was oversubscribed, meaning it is important wheelchair-accessible taxis are on the road. It appears, however, those taxis have not been reliable.
Hunter cited one such taxi facing mechanical issues and another with staffing issues. She said efforts by the city to ensure those taxis are operating have been ongoing for a number of years, to no avail.
As a result, People in Motion — an agency that helps people with disabilities — is looking to acquire its own vehicle.
The topic also came up during a recent community services committee meeting.
On Tuesday, Coun. Dale Bass questioned how custom transit can be expanded — planned to the tune of $106,000 in January of 2022 — without such taxis now available. Hunter questioned the addition of two new conventional buses, but no plans for a new HandyDart vehicle, which she said could take pressure off need for wheelchair-accessible taxis.
The city’s transportation engineer, Purvez Irani, said BC Transit data indicates the HandyDart service is currently meeting demand. Demand has been low, Irani said, as service is utilized by people who are immunocompromised and social programs were suspended during the pandemic.
Irani said BC Transit is analyzing the cost to increase the HandyDart fleet, as opposed to continued reliance on the taxi saver program. That analysis came at the request of council, but the information is not expected until the end of June.
Hunter questioned why council should approve this year’s operating agreement without that information.
Both Hunter and Bass opposed adoption of the operating agreement, which was ultimately approved by council.
Hunter also put forward a motion, which passed, to discuss the issue with B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming at the Union of BC Municipalities convention in September, noting other communities are likely struggling with accessible taxi service and implementation of the taxi saver program.
Safer rides home needed?
Meanwhile, as the economy works toward reopening, questions are also being raised about the reliability of taxis for safe rides home.
Coun. Bill Sarai said council received complaints prior to the pandemic about limited availability of late-night rides. He made a motion that staff investigate the possibility of a local taxi commission, which would provide the city with more control.
Sarai told KTW a taxi commission would allow the city to hold cab companies accountable through fines or other means when it receives complaints. Sarai said the city receives many complaints and is the voice of the people when others won’t listen.
“This isn’t just accessibility, wheelchair availability,” Sarai told council. “The issue is going to come back to us like it did a year-and-a-half ago, when everything was open and TRU students were drastically phoning us and saying they couldn’t get a taxi at 11:30 at night downtown to get home in Dufferin — or taxi drivers were picking them up and saying you have to give us cash or we’re not taking you home.”
Sarai said a taxi commission would address myriad issues.
The city’s community services director, Byron McCorkell, explained taxis are regulated through the provincial Passenger Transportation Board.
“All we look at is the business licence and the cleanliness and age of the fleet” McCorkell said. “What we’re trying to explain to them is that we need to see those wheelchair vans out more often, but that’s our logistical problem, is that, technically, the way passenger vans or taxis are issued, that licensing is done through the Provincial Transportation Board.”
Sarai’s motion passed, with councillors Hunter, Dieter Dudy and Arjun Singh opposed.
The Passenger Transportation Board told KTW passenger transportation enforcement officers are responsible for ensuring commercial passenger compliance. The board would not otherwise offer comment.
A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson said in an email response to KTW that no complaints or information has been brought forward in relation to accessible taxis, but that the information would be investigated upon receipt of such information. If warranted, the branch would launch an investigation and take enforcement action, the spokesperson said.
KTW also reached out to Yellow Cabs Kamloops and Kami Cabs for comment and is awaiting a reply.