Does Calgary really need more taxis?
The taxi industry is a significant employer for Calgary, providing jobs to over 1,500 drivers. After city councilors pushed for changes for the taxi industry of Calgary, the city will be receiving 383 new cabs and drivers will also be able to charge 8.1 per cent more starting immediately.
Of those new taxis, 126 will be on the streets by this December, with the remainder being added to the roster in March 2015.
For those who have struggled to get a cab in the wee hours of a Friday or Saturday morning, this might sound like a good idea. However, while some taxi drivers are on board, many others believe that Calgary doesn’t need more cabs, claiming it will inhibit current driver’s ability to make a fair wage while not aiding customers.
The main time for shortages is not surprising — the hours between 1 – 3 a.m. on weekend nights, when on-street observations find clusters of people downtown looking for taxis.
This is not an uncommon occurrence in most cities, since taxis are often driving people from the downtown core to surrounding suburbs, taking longer to return for more customers. The city would need twice as many taxis during that time frame in order to adequately serve all the customers, but since Calgary is one of the cities with high amounts of vehicle ownership, these taxis would likely go unused during the rest of the week. In fact, many of the taxis Calgary currently has are going unused during off times.
Data collected by the Calgary Livery Transport Services is used to evaluate the number of cabs on the streets, but the data is inconclusive, displaying only the number of meters running and not necessarily where the taxis are waiting, or the call response time for customers ordering their cab.
Gurdev Sekhon has been driving cabs in Calgary for about five years and is a member of the Taxi and Limousine Advisory Committee (TLAC). He says that the magic number of taxis needed in the city sits more around 61, with seven being van cabs.
“Cabs are sitting around you all the time; the main problem is that you cannot get connected to the broker,” he says.
“The cab companies are charging a specific number each week to the driver. Some of the bigger companies are charging about $400 a week, so they don’t have any motivation to run the business.”
The major companies — Mayfair, Associated and Yellow Checker cabs — are naturally interested in putting more taxis on the streets because it automatically, without fail, would boost their income.
“If you (cab companies) are making all this money each month, each week into your bank account, you are not worried if drivers are making money, or if customers are getting good service,” says Sekhon.
The TLAC pulled key information from data collected by the City of Calgary, noting that citizen satisfaction with taxi drivers is high, at 93 per cent, while satisfaction with the ability to speak with a taxi dispatcher in a timely manner is only 68 per cent.
Therefore, the problem may be with the dispatching services and not with the number of taxis on the road.
“When a customer calls a cab company, they do not know which company would be the fastest. For example, a customer waits for a cab from one company while three more from other brokers are already in the area waiting for the fare. One central dispatch system could make things far more efficient.”
Sekhon says that there are many taxis in the city’s core, often times far too many, and it’s hindering drivers’ abilities to make a fair wage. Current earning hours are only 29 per cent of the total working hours of the drivers, compared to an industry average of 45 to 50 per cent. After the fees that the drivers must pay in order to run their taxis (including fuel, maintenance, insurance, license and dispatch fees) there is little left over for the driver as actual income.
As a result, many drivers are working extensive hours. Sekhon says it can be a struggle to make things work.
“I work 12 to 15 hours a day. I don’t have any family life and I have two kids at home.”
Overall, it appears that the taxi industry doesn’t need any new additions, as most industry stakeholders believe that clients are being served in a timely and professional way — with the exception of peak bar closing hours and unavoidable occurrences like snow storms. Increasing taxis in our city might only benefit cab company owners. It would leave customers with the same call waiting times and leave taxi drivers with a shortage in clients and wages.
“It’s the system that needs to change,” says Sekhon. “Increasing the number of cabs is not the solution.”