Halifax has issued a request for proposals to complete a comprehensive review of the taxi industry in the municipality.
The motion to draft an RFP was first voted on by Halifax Regional Council last month and the tender was released Friday.
Lucas Wide, spokesperson for the municipality, told Global News the last time the taxi and limousine industry was reviewed was in 1994 and there have been many advancements in technology, training, programming and other issues.
“It seemed like the appropriate time to go back out and have a report done as to how we can advance the industry,” Wide said.
Under the RFP, the consultant hired by the municipality will take a look at service delivery; passenger and driver safety measures such as audio/video recording and emergency alarm buttons; cultural sensitivity training; services to persons with disabilities; incorporating new technology including smartphone applications and audible meters; accessibility services supporting customer demands; and analyze best practices in other municipalities.
David Buffet, president of the Halifax Taxi Owners Association, said in terms of driver safety it “is what it is.” He said drivers already have cellphones and those brokered with companies such as Casino Taxi or Yellow Cab have emergency buttons that, in correspondence with GPS in the cars, will alert police to assist.
As for passenger safety, he said there are things already in the works such as decals with the car number placed inside the car, but he’s also hoping cars will soon see real-time GPS installed, which would prove where a driver is and for how long, should a complaint ever be made.
Asked about cameras inside taxi cars — another factor to be looked at by the consultant — Buffet said he’s installed one voluntarily in his car, but if a mandatory need for cameras in cars were put in place, it could add to a sense of safety.
“A passenger gets in, they see the camera — cause it’s clearly mounted on typically the windshield, so it’s not a secret that it’s there — I think a passenger is going to feel that nothing is going to be said or done that’s inappropriate because there’s camera footage,” he said.
The consultant or firm who is awarded the contract will also need to examine how licences are issued, denied, suspended and revoked, as well as the appeal process around such an action. They would also look at the automatic revocation of licences for those charged or convicted criminally for offences that affect public/passenger safety.
Buffet said there is conflict on how he sees the revocation of a licence.
“As a Canadian citizen I’m not sure how that bodes with the constitution where we have the presumption of innocence,” he said. “But as a taxi driver I think if you assault a passenger or put a passenger at risk in any way, whether it’s dangerous driving or an assault, you need a suspension of course.”
According to the RFP, Halifax currently has a limit of 1,000 conventional taxi owner licences with 610 in the “Halifax Zone,” 200 in Dartmouth, and 190 in the “County zone.” It says there are 28 accessible taxis, 190 limousines and 1,460 licensed drivers who can operate licensed vehicles for hire.
The review will include public consultations with the public, Halifax Transit, Halifax Regional Police and the persons with disabilities community, to name a few.
The contractor will eventually have to prepare a final recommendation report on how to improve the industry and provide a draft regulatory bylaw. Both will then be presented to council.
Wide said from a practical standpoint, “what the municipality wants is that any passenger that uses a taxi or limousine, to have the confidence that when they use that service, they’re going to get a safe, respectful and accessible journey.”
Buffet said he’d like the review to recommend some more training, even just a day or two, to “tweak” what drivers should know and safety measures for passengers and drivers.
Halifax’s taxi industry has been a focus by the public this year. Statistics by Halifax police showed there were 14 cases of alleged sexual assaults involving cab drivers in the past few years and earlier this year, the taxi industry took centre stage after a Halifax taxi driver was acquitted of sexual assault. The Crown later appealed the case.
The deadline for proposals is 2 p.m. on July 12. The tender will be awarded by the end of July. It’s expected the report will be ready to go to council in the fall or winter.
—With files from Jennifer Grudic, Global News