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Limo companies struggling during pandemic say Edmonton fees crippling industry

Limo companies in Edmonton say they can’t pay city fees
Edmonton limousine companies say while COVID-19 has devastated the industry, a situation with fees involving the City of Edmonton is making their problems worse. Fletcher Kent reports.

Edmonton limousine companies say COVID-19 has devastated their industry but the City of Edmonton is making their problems worse.

Read more: Low sales, fewer customers creating dire situation for Alberta small businesses: CFIB

“It’s disappointing. It’s deflating,” said Suzan Burtic, who owns Legends Limousine with her husband Liveu.

“I’m angry. How can they be so callous?”

Limo companies are required to pay dispatch and licensing fees to the City of Edmonton. For the Burtic’s fleet of four limousines, that amounts to about $2,700 per year.

Read more: Coronavirus: City of Edmonton introduces new regulations for vehicle-for-hire services

Burtic said several limousine companies met with city officials Wednesday who told them they needed to pay their fees or they could be ticketed.

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Burtic said several of the companies asked the city to waive their 2020 fees given the COVID-19 crisis. That didn’t happen during the meeting.

“We’re trying to keep ourselves afloat but the city only wants its pound of flesh.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Burtics decided to park their fleet of limousines in a storage facility.

Limo vehicles in a storage lot in St. Albert. The vehicles have been parked there since March 2020.
Limo vehicles in a storage lot in St. Albert. The vehicles have been parked there since March 2020. Morris Gamblin, Global News

Eighty per cent of Legends Limousine’s business comes from weddings and graduations. Those markets disappeared in 2020.

Read more: How to plan a wedding in Alberta as COVID-19 restrictions ease

The company also gets a lot of work from Christmas parties. The Burtics doubt there will be many of those this year either.

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The company says it is trying to survive until demand for limousine service returns. If fees aren’t waived, Legends’ owners aren’t sure they can make it through the month.

“That’s quite a lump sum to get from nowhere when you’re not working,” Suzan said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: City of Edmonton has 5-level plan in case of large outbreak, 2nd wave

Protocol Limousines says it too wants help from the city.

Sylvain Vezina said he’d welcome fee waivers but the bigger issue to him is how the city is responding to industry concerns.

Vezina says during Wednesday’s meeting, city workers polled limo companies about how business was but he felt the real purpose was to remind companies that their fees are due.

“City hall right now hasn’t been treating us like citizens,” Vezina said.

“They’re saying pay and we’ll see what happens later. That’s not the way that you treat people when they’re telling you they’re starving for business.”

The city says it is looking into the concerns of limousine companies.

Administration is working on a series of recommendations that will go before city councillors, likely later in September.

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READ MORE: By the numbers: 6 months since Alberta’s first COVID-19 case confirmed

In an email, a city spokesperson wrote:

“One of the options under consideration is a 50 per cent reduction in dispatcher and vehicle licensing fees for 2020, with the same 50 per cent reduction being extended to the 2021 licence fees for companies who have already provided full payment in 2020 in lieu of issuing a refund.

“The EAC also asked administration to bring forward information on the impacts of extending the fee reductions to driver licensing fees.”

The Burtics say 50 per cent off their fees likely won’t help that much. They’re trying to survive and any cost feels excessive.

Co-owner Liveu isn’t sure his company can survive beyond September. He gets emotional when thinking of having to shutter his business.

“After 22 years, working so hard,” he says before pausing and collecting himself. “It’s a shame.”

Thousands of Alberta small businesses struggling: CFIB
Thousands of Alberta small businesses struggling: CFIB