Thursday, January 31, 2008

Taxi drivers' bill of rights makes courtesy the best policy B.C. rolls out safety regulations and fines for badly behaved cabbies and passengers

From the Globe and Mail Website:

January 31, 2008

-- Taxi drivers reluctant to take passengers on long rides to the suburbs could face fines of $288 as part of a new Taxi Bill of Rights for Metro Vancouver that also guarantees passengers a "courteous driver" and "quiet atmosphere."

The code, announced yesterday, was saluted by some in the industry for the rights it gives to drivers, who will be able to refuse service to unruly passengers and demand deposits for long trips.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon framed the plan as a bid to improve service in the Vancouver region as the 2010 Winter Olympics raise the prospect of a flood of visitors in the region needing prompt cab service. "We are inviting the world here in 2010, and we want to make sure we have got a world-class taxi industry we can be proud of in British Columbia," Mr. Falcon told a news conference. "The taxi drivers' bill of rights will go a long way to ensuring we get there."

Mr. Falcon said he is talking to the industry about options and ideas for ensuring a healthy supply of cabs during the 17-day Games, but said he needs time before disclosing them.

"There are some ideas that can help deal with that surge during the Olympics," he said, noting that 111 new taxi licences have been issued for Vancouver in the past six months.

The code of conduct includes provisions for passengers to be guaranteed the right to a clean taxi, to direct the route or expect the most economical route, and to travel with an assistance dog or portable mobility aid. Taxi drivers can refuse fares for their own health and safety or that of a passenger, if the person is acting in an offensive manner or won't provide a deposit.

The rules deal with issues that have arisen recently in the taxi industry. Some cabbies have refused to take passengers on long trips out to the suburbs. Drivers have been assaulted, and some have been cheated by customers who dash out of the vehicle after long trips without paying.

Last year, Mr. Falcon was himself denied a trip to Surrey one evening from the Vancouver entertainment district.

"This is really a balanced approach, because this is for passengers and drivers," said Gurvinder Mahil, president of Black Top, one of the region's largest taxi services.

Mr. Falcon is promising "undercover sting operations" to find drivers violating the rules on taking passengers to the suburbs.

Mr. Mahil welcomed the stings.

"If we want to protect our industry, it's good. If the driver is doing something wrong, why protect them?"

Mr. Falcon acknowledged his own troubles with cabs.

"I've had, actually, lots of experiences," Mr. Falcon said. "And I think the issue was there was some, probably, legitimate confusion on the part of taxi drivers not understanding their obligations that come with a taxi licence, and one of the things I think the taxi bill of rights does is really clarify what the obligations of drivers are, and what the expectations of drivers are," he said.

"I think we will see an improvement, but it will not happen overnight."

New Democrat Raj Chouhan, who has been dealing with the issue for the opposition, called the code a "step in the right direction," but hoped that the government would provide resources to police to protect cabbies by promptly responding to reports of assault.

A spokesman for the minister was unable to clarify what cash penalties might be imposed on cabbies who violate the other measures of the conduct code, such as not providing a clean cab.