Catching a cab to crazy town

Calgary’s taxi industry needs reform

When thinking about the cab situation in Calgary the first question that springs to mind is “Where do I even start?” It’s crazy.

Ever since I was young “Don’t Drink and Drive” has been a central idea and yet sadly some still don’t get the message.

So after a gold medal hockey game and a few drinks when you need a safe ride home you call a taxi… and get a busy signal. You call again. And again. And again. Busy. Busy. Busy. Then you get a dispatcher and feel as though you just won the lottery. You give the address… and wait. And wait. And wait. Pretty soon you start to think about other options.

Drinking and driving is illegal irresponsible and can forever destroy the lives of everybody involved. It should never be an option. Ever.

I’ve watched the back and forth on taxi reform in Calgary for some time. It’s an industry protected by municipal government through restrictions on the number of licences with the goal of safety for drivers and safety for passengers. A taxi licence from the city represents a small fortune for brokers who can flip the licences for a tidy margin (we’re talking thousands of percentage points in margin) or charge taxi drivers for its use. While fares are the bread and butter for the drivers the brokers need fees from the drivers who use their licences to make the bucks.

Some argue the City of Calgary should release more taxi licences to solve the problem forcing taxi drivers to work during peak demand. Rather than responding with less regulation or better regulation the city is considering responding with simply more regulation — requiring cabs to operate at peak hours as a condition of the licence. You know because that’s worked swell up to this point.

The diddling around the issue is blatant. At some point someone is going to have to flag down the brokers and figure out what’s going on here. A good place to start is by getting a decent level of dispatchers to connect the demand with the supply. Adding thousands of cabs isn’t going to do much when a customer continually gets a busy signal while trying to book one. Remember though there is no reward nor punishment for a broker who doesn’t hire enough dispatchers — they receive their money from the drivers not the fares.

Maybe it’s time for some contractual service levels stipulating that customers can expect certain levels of service and otherwise monetary fines are applied or licences are revoked.

This past week was particularly embarrassing for the taxi industry in Calgary when during a city committee meeting a senior individual from one of the brokerages was removed from the session for name-calling and interrupting presenters.

The taxi system in Cowtown needs a reset. For the taxi industry the change doesn’t have to come from within. Technologies like FastCab and Google-backed Uber which connect customers with drivers directly are flying above our taxi industry like vultures looking for easy prey.

They’ll find a buffet of opportunity here in Calgary where a cab ride to crazy town is often the only available trip.