Random Policy Idea: Why not more taxis?

Making Winnipeg less dependent upon car ownership

A few weeks ago, I read an article in the Winnipeg Free Press on the regulatory practices of the Taxicab Board (TCB). In “Cabbies, customers deserve better”, Graham Lane, a former chairman of the Public Utilities Board, argued that the TCB was unnecessarily limiting the number of taxi licenses granted, beholden to the interests of taxi company owners.

He stated that despite our population doubling since 1946, the number of permanent licenses had “barely budged.” He listed the ratio of residents to taxis at 1800 to one – compared to his quote of 900 to one for Calgary. I’ve got a random policy idea: why not more taxis?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve overheard an out-of-towner told “You tried to hail a cab? Yeah... we don’t really do that here. Unless you’re in Osborne Village or outside a bar.” I’m sure many can also relate to the long wait on a Saturday night, hoping your taxi will arrive, but unsure if it’s been taken by someone, or just slow. Since taxis aren’t considered reliable, if you have a somewhat regular need for vehicle transportation, the traditional option has been car ownership.

One option that’s emerging as an alternative is the use of a car-coops. There are many people who use their cars infrequently, or who can’t afford one, but sometimes need one anyways. While these people might be ideal candidates for a carshare, it’s not for everyone. The usage fees are reasonable, but it’s a $500 membership fee to join. The carshare cars might be freely available, but sometimes they need to be booked in advance.

Many services – postal service, for example – allow a customer to pay extra for faster service. Whether due to lack of planning, or an unexpected situation arising, we often need a service at a faster rate, and are willing to pay more to get it. I can envision taxis functioning as a more flexible, costlier version of a carshare. It’s not hard to imagine: You woke up late and have somewhere to be! A taxi would be useful. You have to transport groceries, music gear, or a small child. Maybe you’re going to a Jets game. Maybe it’s late and you want to go home, and unfortunately, you’re not standing outside of Little Pizza Heaven.

If taxis were seen as a reliable option, we might see less dependence on vehicle ownership, particularly among more centralized residents. Less cars on the road has a plethora of positive outcomes associated with it. For those who choose alternate forms of transport: less carbon emissions and better health outcomes. For those who want or need to drive, they’ll see less traffic, and less wear-and-tear on the roads.

I like Graham Lane’s thinking on raising the number of taxi licenses. It wouldn’t make the qualifications any less rigorous, it would just open the field for would-be taxi owners. My admittedly loose hypotheses on vehicle ownership might not come to pass, but the very least we’d achieve would be greater convenience. 

Fabian Suarez-Amaya is an education student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 68, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 12, 2014)

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