Monday, February 6, 2012

Taxi Bylaw - Missing the Point

At tonight's council meeting one of the agenda items will be the third and final reading of the proposed changes to the sections of the city's business licence bylaw that deal with regulations around taxis. The discussion about the changes has been covered in the media many times - and most of the time the media focus in on the proposed "cap" on the number of taxis that the city would licence to operate.

As of right now the "cap" has been stripped out of the bylaw. That happened at our last council meeting when a number of council members objected to it and a motion was made to pass the bylaw with out that section. If the bylaw passes "as is" tonight then we will have no cap on the number of taxi licences that the city will issue.

Much of the attention during the debate has been on how this is "government interfering with the free market". Unfortunately I think that point of view fails to take into account why the cap was proposed in the first place - it provides us a lever which we can use to encourage the taxi industry to provide better service ... specifically to people with mobility issues.

The bylaw stated that we would limit the number of taxi licenses to 173 and review that number every two years to see if it needed to be adjusted. The bylaw also made allowances for drivers who operated in 2010 but missed the registration deadline due to personal circumstances - they were allowed to reregister and that brought the number of registered taxis to about 206... already well above the "cap".

(Of note is that Red Deer also has a limit on the number of taxis: 1 per 750 people ... or about 110 total based on the most current population of 82,772. If our cap worked on the same ratio of 1/750 our cap would have been 67 units. The Red Deer Taxi Bylaw)

The thing about "The Cap" is that it does not prevent new taxis from coming on the the road. Anyone could licence a new taxis - IF it was either wheelchair accessible OR a hybrid.

I will be the first to admit that there is no question that this would be an example of government regulating of private enterprise. But the truth is that we already regulate the taxi industry in many ways and I feel this is a reasonable way for us to encourage the industry to begin providing service to a good portion of our population who have very few options for transportation. I also think it's kind of like saying we welcome new businesses BUT you have to provide a handicap stall in your parking lot - not an unreasonable request.

The funny thing is that much of the taxi industry is in SUPPORT of the cap.

The cap would provide a financial incentive for private business to invest in bringing wheelchair accessible taxis to the city. Basically we are saying that we have enough old police cars out on the streets and that if you want to bring a new unit to the city to do business it should be wheelchair accessible (or a hybrid).

So tonight council will debate the third and final reading of the taxi bylaw... without the cap. If no changes are made and the bylaw is passed as is we will loose that lever, that incentive, that the cap provided to encourage taxi operators to bring wheelchair accessible taxis to the city.

It makes me think of how we managed to get the last accessible taxi on the street (pics)- by giving a $20,000 grant to do it. If we had had a cap in place at the time maybe the city wouldn't have had to do that. I think it's telling that there have been no new accessible taxis since the city last contributed money to make it happen ... unless there's some kind of financial incentive then industry won't do it.

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