The City of Belleville has cleared the way for ridesharing services, like Uber and Lyft, to begin operating in the friendly city.
Councillors cited years of complaints about poor taxi service in the city as a reason for taking action.
“It is extraordinarily difficult,” said Ruth Roberts.
Roberts, a resident of Belleville for 17 years, says she has all but given up on calling a cab when see needs one.
“Obviously, if we are going out we take taxis, because we don’t drink and drive,” said Roberts, citing an example. “We were invited to a party, we were dressed.
“We phoned for a cab and after three hours of calling back and calling back … we took off our pretty dresses and poured ourselves a glass of wine and stayed at home.”
Belleville councillor Chris Malette, at council on Nov. 23, also gave a recent example. In it, 62 troops were heading to Kuwait and Iraq, and some of them called for a cab — only to wait for over an hour.
“Part of the flight crew was held up for the flight, because, you guessed it … they couldn’t get from their Belleville hotel to the air terminal at CFB Trenton,” said Malette, “because they were waiting an hour and 20 minutes for a taxi from Belleville.”
The issue of taxi services came up when Malette introduced a motion that would open the Belleville market to ridesharing companies.
Malette was unavailable on Thursday for an interview. Councillor Ryan Williams spoke to Global News in his place.
“We suspended the rules to allow ridesharing if they want”, said Williams. “It’s the bylaw for the taxi services to be able to operate if they wish at this point.”
Belleville has been in talks with Uride, a Thunder Bay ridesharing company launched in 2017.
But according to one of Belleville’s two taxi providers, poor service in the city is not for a lack of trying and the COVID-19 pandemic is adding to their challenges.
“We’ve always had trouble with drivers,” said Hanif Patni, vice-chair of Coventry Connection, Inc., the company that owns and operates Central Taxi.
“We’ve had trouble communicating that it’s a great job.”
“It’s a flexible job and you make good money. You make reasonable money. You’re not going to turn into a millionaire … but what you are doing is serving customers.”
“The downtown business association and council have done a magnificent job over the last few of years, of revitalizing the downtown,” Roberts added. “An extraordinary job.
“It’s hampered by the fact you can’t get where you (want) to go half the time.”
Uride is expected to start service in the new year.