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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Taxi changes aim to fix gender disparity and safety issues

Halifax regional council passes big changes for the taxi industry

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 4:53 PM

Will adding 600 roof lights to the Halifax taxi industry improve long waits and safety concerns? - VIA ISTOCK
  • via iStock
  • Will adding 600 roof lights to the Halifax taxi industry improve long waits and safety concerns?

Council moved Halifax’s taxi reform on to the next stage this week by passing all recommendations put forward by staff in the Vehicle for Hire Licensing Program Review.

Sweeping “housekeeping changes” from making GPS units mandatory, increasing language testing requirements, tightening the rules around talking on the phone while driving passengers and making credit and debit machines mandatory are among the changes intended to increase rider safety. 

The change facing the most opposition from the city’s taxi drivers is to add 600 new owner licenses or “roof lights” to the current cap of 1,000. The increase has been met with fierce criticism from taxi roof-light owners—and praise from the over 230 roof-light renters. The number is designed to increase supply and address gender disparity among drivers. 

Staff says that adding 600 owner licences is the only way to fairly introduce more women into the industry, as the current waitlist for new owners has over 500 people on it (some of whom have been waiting 13 years).

Anything less would mean “The women who are on that list are not going to see an owners licence for eight years” says Sally Christie, supervisor of regional licensing. 

There are 13 women on the waitlist who would benefit from this, one of whom is Chrissy McDow. 

McDow runs the female-only airport taxi and limousine company Lady Drive Her and says 600 is too many.

“If they’re trying to wiggle down to 500 names just to get a female, I don’t want them to do that,” says McDow. “I don’t want to see 600 [more] lights because my ladies are going to take forever to make a living.” 

The push for more women in the industry comes in response to safety concerns: 66 percent of respondents to the citizen survey said they would prefer an all-female taxi service because passengers would feel safer.

But as of right now, the change would only add 13 more females to the 25 who already have owner licenses. (There are 36 women with driver licenses, and it’s likely the 11 of them without owner licenses are on the waitlist). Over 1,400 men have driver licenses and own 975 of the 1,000 owner licenses. 

McDow says she’d be lucky if she saw even 50 women come forward if they open up the licensing. With that and the 600 increase, women would still make up only 5 percent of the industry.

McDow says “if it’s only 13 women, give the 13 women their permits, just take them off the list and give it to them.” When asked in council on Tuesday if this was a possibility, Christie says they wanted to make sure they dealt with the waitlist in a fair way. They didn’t want to put women who had been on the waitlist for five years ahead of men who had been on the waitlist for 13 years, and they need to get more people working and on the road.

“We do not have enough supply to meet the demand. That’s really the bottom line,” says Christie.

Adding the 600 licenses would also free many drivers with driver licenses but not roof lights from expensive and difficult leasing arrangements. The full extent of these arrangements is unknown, but Casino Taxi alone has 230 drivers in leasing arrangements. Deputy mayor Tony Mancini says many of the people in these leasing arrangements are newcomers who are being taken advantage of. 

“It’s wrong, it’s truly wrong,” says Mancini. 

Council also passed recommendations for another report, which would look specifically at how to handle the “inevitable” arrival of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber or Lyft, and that the mayor writes a letter to the province asking permission to subsidize the accessible taxi industry.

Councillor Lindell Smith asked staff if there was a way to guarantee that increasing the number of owner licenses by 600 wouldn’t cause the city’s only 16 accessible drivers switch to regular roof light licences. The hope is that with the added subsidies this won’t be a problem. There’s no waitlist for an accessible license, yet drivers would rather wait up to 13 years for a regular roof light than drive an accessible taxi. “Right now, the taxi system does not make enough money for a taxi driver to drive. They are losing money when they are on the road,” says councillor Waye Mason.

After municipal staff draw up the by-law amendments, they’ll return to council for further debate. 

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