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Cab company owner says Saskatoon city hall missed opportunity after vote

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WATCH: Starting a business is rarely easy and it is even tougher during a pandemic. An owner of a new taxi company in Saskatoon was counting on city hall for help, but he says he was let down – Feb 24, 2021

The owner of a new cab company says Saskatoon’s city council missed a big opportunity to help the struggling industry.

Khodr Bardouh started Hey Taxi last October. He said the company is gathering more customers every day and he’s accrued nearly 30 cabs and drivers. But properly equipping a taxi is expensive and Bardouh said he’s not competing on a level playing field with Uber.

“What (the councillors) apply to the taxi business, to the taxi industry, I would like to see that happening to Uber,” he said, “because this not a fair playing field.”

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The rivalry predates the pandemic. For years, taxi drivers have pushed city council to require ride-sharing vehicles to meet the same requirements as cabs.

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The City of Saskatoon requires licensed taxis to have, among other things, a sign on the roof of the car, decals and cameras, all of which come with a price tag.

Bardouh said the cameras he uses cost around US$600 each. And he said it costs $7,500 to run a taxi for a year.

The city doesn’t require the same of Uber.

A report on the issue came before city council last Monday.

It outlined 12 possible changes, like requiring drivers with ridesharing apps to have the same municipal licences taxi drivers must possess or limiting the number of ride-sharers in the city.

However, the city report recommended against most of the changes, such as cameras in vehicles. The report said taxis get passengers through anonymous means like phone calls and being flagged down on the street. While apps like Uber will have contact information as people use them.

“Use of the app documents contact information of passengers and provides equivalent driver and passenger safety mechanisms,” said the report.

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Similarly, the report recommends against having ride-sharing vehicles with similar licensing to taxis. The report said “TNC (rideshare) drivers must also meet these minimum Bylaw requirements, however instead of licensing drivers directly, compliance is verified by the TNC prior to approving a driver to affiliate with the transportation network, and with regular compliance checks and audits by the City.”

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Overall, says the report, the city is trying to strike a balance between taxis and ride-share companies, which often have people driving part-time.

“Differences in how they operate require different regulations and licensing requirements,” said the report. “Regulations are aligned between the two industries whenever possible.”

Council did approve one change — an amendment to the vehicle for hire bylaw that increases the maximum allowable age of a taxi vehicle from seven years to 10, matching Uber’s standard.

Bardouh told Global News he was hoping for more.

“To prolong the life of the car three more years, that doesn’t help us whatsoever,” he said.

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Bardouh previously was a cab driver himself and was an owner in a different company. He is part of a class-action lawsuit against the City of Saskatoon, in which cab company operators allege the city’s policy of taxis charging a “per trip fee” unfairly benefits transportation network companies (TNC) like Uber.

He said business has dropped off during the pandemic. Provincial stay-at-home orders mean there are almost no fares after dark, he said.

A few days after the vote, he said he’ll focus on expanding his business.

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Coun. Bev Dubois, the chair of the standing committee on transportation, did not respond to a request for comment.

— with files from Thomas Piller

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