This story was updated on January 7 at 11:10 am.
NORTHEAST TOWN – In a report to council at its last meeting of 2020, held December 23, Northeast Town staff asked council to reconsider its taxi licencing bylaw due to an unfair advantage out-of-town taxi companies have when operating within the municipality.
“At the present time, the town offers four full-time licences and two seasonal licences, of which all are currently purchased—two by Mother’s Taxi and two by All-In-One Taxi—however, it is undetermined how many taxis each is really operating because they also operate outside of town and so have multiple vehicles,” a staff report states. “There are at least two other companies that take fares in town, one being Jeff’s Taxi and the other being Island-Wide Taxi.” (Since this story was first published on Wednesday, January 6, The Expositor has learned that contrary to the staff report, Jeff’s Taxi does not operate passenger service in the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands.)
“Since we have little way of actually regulating the number of taxis and due to the fact that we do not and have not issued licences for any other businesses in town, staff is requesting council consider revisiting the licencing of taxi cabs.”
Councillor Michael Erskine said he would “happily move to rescind the bylaw” as it doesn’t mean a “hill of beans” in terms of revenue for the municipality and that it wasn’t fair to those companies who were playing by the rules.
Councillor Bill Koehler disagreed with Councillor Erskine, stating that he thought there should be some loyalty given to those two companies who have paid their licences year after year.
Councillor Jim Ferguson said that while he saw Councillor’s Koehler’s point, he agreed with Councillor Erskine and didn’t think it was fair to charge licencing fees.
“I’ve had discussions with one taxi operator and asked what could be done,” said Councillor Al Boyd. “Indeed, I know there are regulations under the bylaw that provide for equal fares. If we rescind this bylaw, are there ramifications?”
CAO Dave Williamson noted that there is more liability when there’s a bylaw in place that can’t be enforced. “The truth is, societal rules and federal and provincial laws basically prohibit the current rules under the ancient bylaw,” he added in response to Councillor Boyd’s query.
“If they don’t have to comply, what happens to the two companies that have licences if they pack it in and then no one is left?” Councillor Koehler asked.
Mr. Williamson told council that as the bylaw currently stands, local operators are currently being punished.
“Has there been feedback from the operators in town?” Councillor Laurie Cook asked the CAO.
“No, but there has been in the past, stating that it’s not fair,” Mr. Williamson responded.
“That’s the thing that has me pretty much convinced,” Councillor Erskine said. “How do we go about enforcing this?”
Mr. Williamson said there is no enforcement, but that once a year operators give the municipality their money for licences.
Councillor Dawn Orr asked if it was possible to advertise the licenced cabs in the municipality by way of support. Mr. Williamson said they could.
“The issue has come up in municipalities all over Ontario,” Mayor Al MacNevin said. “The reason we’re not doing this (enforcement) is it would take a great deal of resources we don’t have.”
“We’re limiting our own local companies on growth,” Councillor Jim Ferguson said.
Ken Niles of All-In-One Taxi believes it would be in everyone’s best interest to keep the taxi licence. “At least you have control of two (operators),” he told The Expositor.
Mr. Niles said the “scab cab” business is doing great detriment to those licenced taxi companies who are insured to run commercial vehicles and even suggested some of those unlicenced taxis are up to unsavoury things.
“If you’re going to get rid of it, fine, but you’ll end up with no taxis,” Mr. Niles stated flatly. “It’s coming.”
“It’s not the permit that’s the problem, it’s the people on the road who are not insured to do commercial work,” he continued. “It’s a mistake if they don’t enforce the bylaw—a huge mistake.”
Reg Scott operates D and R Taxi under the licence of All-In-One. He said he would love to have a permit through the municipality, and has applied for one, but was told there were no more licences to give. Mr. Scott said it would be nice if the municipalities “offered at least a couple of extra permits to have a chance.” He also thinks that the municipalities should demand proof of taxi insurance when operators apply for their yearly permits.
Mr. Scott shared that in December, his insurance bill for two vehicles (one is a spare in case of breakdown) was $1,000. This month it’s $1,400.
“I would definitely pay for one,” he added.
Shirley Vaillant spoke on behalf of Mother’s Taxi, which is operated by her son Allan Genereux out of Little Current.
“I think licencing is a good way to go,” Ms. Vaillant said of the municipal licence. “Taxi is a hard business; we’ve been in it for eight-and-a-half years now. Licencing is the way to go.”
Some communities have identifying markers that taxi companies can place on the cab to show that they are licenced to operate in a municipality. Ms. Vaillant said she thinks the Northeast Town should do the same.
“If you have a good service, it will survive,” she added, questioning the ‘scab cabs’ and what liability they might mean to the municipality.
Council decided to defer the conversation on what to do about taxi licences to a meeting in the new year.