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Taxi fares could be going up in Edmonton

Edmonton city councillors are considering whether to allow taxi companies to apply an additional fuel surcharge on all base fares. File

Edmonton city councillors heard from taxi industry representatives at a committee meeting Tuesday.

Two big issues identified were: the rising costs of operating taxis (including rising gas prices, insurance and fees) and the fact that the fare rate — set by the city — hasn’t been increased since 2007.

“We haven’t had a rate increase since 2007,” said Phil Strong, president of Yellow Cab. “So, it accumulates over time. Everything has gone up tremendously and we can’t seem to keep drivers, they’re leaving the industry, and that’s dangerous for the public.

“We need to have a regulated industry for the sake of the public but we have to have a fair, living wage for our drivers,” Strong said.

“Fuel costs have gone up, insurance has gone up. Jan. 1, the Alberta government brought in a DCPD non-fault insurance that cost cab drivers a whole bunch of money.”

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In Edmonton, taxi fares are regulated by the city and don’t take into account the fluctuation of retail gasoline prices.

City administration initially recommend an optional, and potentially temporary, 13.29 per cent fuel surcharge to taxi base fares.

But industry representatives had concerns with that optional element.

“This option of leaving it to companies whether to increase the surcharge or not, that will leave a lot of operators, taxi drivers not getting that increase,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said.

“The way the system works is that if one broker decides not to implement that optional increase, then others brokers will be forced to not do so either. And that puts pressure on drivers because drivers have been hurting over the last couple of months because of increased fuel prices but also not having an increase since 2007.”

Click to play video: 'Several Calgary taxi companies dropping their rate starting Monday'
Several Calgary taxi companies dropping their rate starting Monday

Councillors passed a motion (4-0) asking city administration to revise part of the vehicle-for-hire bylaw amendment “to set out the exact fares to be charged by taxis and accessible taxis, including the proposed surcharge.”

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If gasoline rates return to or below the average price of 129.9 cents per litre for two consecutive quarters, administration will ask council for further direction.

According to the Canadian Automobile Association, the average price of gas in Edmonton on Monday was 185.1 cents a litre.

Administration is to present the proposed changes to city council on July 4 of this year.

Strong says action — and a fare increase — can’t come soon enough.

“We’re the cheapest town in western Canada by 15 per cent on average! Why? It doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

Strong said Yellow Cab has about 60 per cent of its average taxi driver capacity.

“Drivers will start to go to the other forms of business (like Uber)… The others don’t seem to be coming back.”

He said industry as a whole suggested a fare increase of “well over 20 per cent” but city administration picked a different increase number.

“It’s not really 13 per cent if you calculate it,” Strong said, adding: “I don’t really care what it is. We have to take it now, because council is going to go on summer recess and we need something right away.”

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Administration also recommended a broader review of the bylaw regulating fares.

Sohi pointed out that it’s a balancing act between fare increases to support drivers and keeping rates affordable for those who have to use public transit or taxis.

“I am absolutely cognizant that a lot of low-income Edmontonians use taxi service and we need to balance that.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton advocacy groups call for safer, more accessible taxis'
Edmonton advocacy groups call for safer, more accessible taxis

Zachary Weeks, chair of the policy sub-committee for the City of Edmonton’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, agrees.

“Taxis are a great option for a lot of citizens that don’t drive, such as people with disabilities and seniors. But availability — and combine that with increased fares — people in low-income situations typically will need to find alternative ways to get around the city.”

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He said any taxi fare increase will impact marginalized communities.

“People such as myself with disabilities, our senior population, the minorities who rely on public service, taxis to get around.

“Taxi drivers also need to make a living,” Weeks said.

“I think everybody nowadays is working on a tight budget. I think collectively as a city… we need to tighten the belt to get through the tough times. Giving a raise, in terms of fares in this case, wouldn’t be unreasonable as long as it’s not unattainable.”

 

The flat rate for a ride to the Edmonton International Airport would also increase. For example, a ride from the Whyte Avenue area to the airport would increase from $55 to $62.

The rate charged by ride-share companies, such as Uber, is not regulated by the city.

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