Iqaluit basic taxi fare boost looms

Pai-Pa official cites big jump in operating costs

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The basic taxi fare in Iqaluit could soon go up by $1, to $6 a ride.

Iqaluit city council’s fledgling taxi committee discussed a fare-increase request from the taxi industry at a meeting Jan. 18.

But the committee, which had not met for about two years, still needs formal approval of its membership from city council before it can formally recommend a fare increase.

The committee also has several vacancies to be filled by members of the public. Applications for those positions can be found at city hall.

Deputy mayor Al Hayward said he hoped council would approve the committee’s members before the end of this month.

Hayward said before Christmas the public should be consulted before the city grants any taxi rate increase, but added that he thinks the request is fair. He stood by that at the meeting.

Craig Dunphy, general manager of Pai-Pa Taxi, said he first asked for the increase nearly a year ago. He told committee members neither he nor other taxi operators can afford to wait much longer.

“Not me or anyone else is prepared to wait another six months,” Dunphy said.

Since the last increase two years ago, which brought the basic fare up to $5, the price of gasoline has increased from 87 cents to $1.20 a litre. That means the average Iqaluit taxi driver now spends an additional $20-$25 each shift.

And after crunching numbers from repairs bills at his shop, Dunphy estimates it costs drivers an average of $9,800 a year just for vehicle repairs. “It’s a staggering amount of money,” he said.

And the six per cent GST comes off the top of every $5 fare. “Of that $4.67 remaining, you have to pay all of your expenses.”

These include business license fees, permits, dispatch fees, fuel, food, accommodations, accounting services and travel. It adds up to huge expenses.

“There’s not a whole lot left. It’s not the money grab some people make it out to be. Before they make a dime, they’re already out $12,000.”

Dunphy told the committee there are a lot of problems with the taxi industry, but there are just as many misconceptions about the business.

He said people believe that all cab drivers are criminals, but drivers have to have a clean criminal record for five years to get a taxi licence in Iqaluit.

“There are more people with criminal records driving (their own vehicles) in this city than there are driving taxis,” he said. “I spend 10-12 hours a day every day to the best of my ability making sure drivers treat people with respect.”

With more taxi licences being issued in the community – three or four livery licenses are being processed by the city right now – it becomes harder and harder to make a living, as more taxi drivers chase fewer customers.

That’s especially the case when some operators use unscrupulous means to cherry-pick calls from their competitors, Dunphy said.

“These independents are using their pocket scanners to get to where our cars are supposed to be,” he said.

Hayward said the committee would investigate the scanner situation. “It’s prohibited to have a scanner in your car. It’s in the bylaw,” Hayward said.

Trying to deal with indifferent RCMP officers is another frustration cab companies face, Dunphy said.

He said that while waiting for fares outside the Legion last winter, he got a call saying a teenage girl was passed put in a snowbank. When he got there and called the RCMP, they wouldn’t help, he told the committee.

“‘I’m sorry, we’re busy,’“ he said the RCMP dispatcher told him.

Another time, when a passenger caused a disturbance in his cab, the RCMP wouldn’t help him, Dunphy said.

“‘What do you want us to do? Handle it yourself,’“ he said the RCMP told him.

And he said he’s frustrated by the RCMP’s attitude toward people in the taxi business. “We’re trying to work with them here. They don’t care. They just don’t. With them it’s a one-way street. That’s part of the frustration.”

Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik raised concerns of her own. She said she’s worried about the number of non-residents coming to Iqaluit to drive taxi, adding she’d like to see a residence clause put back into the by-law.

Dunphy said such a clause would just be another blow to an industry already on the ropes. “If you put that in the taxi bylaw, you’re never going to have enough drivers.”

“Who are all these people coming into our communities to drive taxi?” she asked.
“I’m paying to fly them in to drive taxi,” he replied. “Cause I can’t get them from here. I’d love it if I could. I’d take them all,” Dunphy said.

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