Metro taxi companies seek approval for weekend pick-up rights in Vancouver

Vancouver’s four taxi companies got a nasty surprise today with the news that 15 Metro Vancouver taxi companies have applied to the Passenger Transportation Board in Victoria for permission to pick up fares on Friday and Saturday nights in Vancouver’s downtown entertainment district.

According to Yellow Cab general manager Carolyn Bauer, who addressed council today on behalf of all four Vancouver firms, the Metro cab companies want the PTB to hear their application at the same time it considers another application by Vancouver’s taxi operators.

Yellow, Black Top, Maclure’s and Vancouver Taxi have applied jointly for 65 new temporary licences for a six-month pilot program on Friday and Saturday nights. If approved, the additional cars would increase the fleet by about 10 percent.

Both initiatives are a response to continuing media coverage of the weekly cab shortage in the entertainment district.  If the PTB agrees to consider both applications at once, the hearings will be the most important in the cab industry in many years.

The PTB approved a plan by Yellow Cab to try temporary weekend licences in December, but the one-month program was launched too late to be properly organized.

But the Metro firms, many of which already pick up in Vancouver illegally, have a different idea. They want permission to designate 15 percent of their cabs to pick up in Vancouver on weekends and other busy days, like cruise ship arrival dates.

If approved, this proposal would slash the value of Vancouver taxi licences and increase the values of licences held by the lucky owners in Metro who won approval to pick up here.

But would it improve customer service? Vancouver is far ahead of other municipalities in its emphasis on clean, properly-equipped cars with capable drivers.

Vancouver council made it clear today, by unanimous vote, that it does not support any unilateral action by the PTB to lift the boundaries for Metro firms. Council voted to approve the six-month trial of weekend licences and asked staff to report back on the results.

But it’s clear that the problems in the entertainment district must be solved, and soon. The city’s Taxi Roundtable is considering a whole range of options, from temporary licences to new airport-style loading zones, which could provide solutions without a risky and uneconomic expansion of the entire fleet.

Will weekend licences do the trick? Council made it clear we want to find out. Let’s see if the Passenger Transportation Board is listening.