North Battleford city council got down to business Tuesday night Nov. 12 on the issue of drafting a new taxi bylaw.
Administration is proposing an update to the current taxi bylaw to prepare for the arrival of possible ride-share services down the road. Council was informed in August that a new bylaw was coming and the first draft has made it to council Tuesday night. Some consultations have already taken place with stakeholders.
At the moment, the bylaw is in draft form only. A lengthy discussion ensued Tuesday, but the indication after the meeting is that discussion of the taxi bylaw will resume when council members meet as the Planning Committee on Monday.
It was obvious from the discussion Tuesday that a number of questions are still to be resolved before a bylaw is ready to be voted on for first reading. The main question is whether the city should continue to limit the number of taxi licences granted. Administration is proposing no limit on licences.
Right now the number of taxi licences is tied to population, with Crown Cab, the only provider of taxi services licensed by the city, licensed for 16 cabs.
Brenda Longley of Crown Cab appeared before council Tuesday to voice her company’s position on the bylaw and its potential impact if the market is opened up to competition. Longley said if a new taxi company were approved to enter North Battleford, that would halt their plans to rebuild their own business to its former state.
There are similar-sized communities to North Battleford that have opened up the number of cab licences, but City Planner Ryan Mackrell noted they weren’t seeing huge changes in the numbers of licences granted. He noted Warman had not seen much change at all, with Uber and other companies “not banging on the door wanting to come in.” Humboldt is a similar story.
Also at issue are taxi rates. Administration is recommending removing the prescribed fees from the bylaw, but Crown Cab voiced concern that this could create an “unfair situation” where other taxicab companies could enter the market and undercut the rates of the existing taxi company.
Mackrell noted, however, other communities are not seeing much change “rate-wise or anything-wise” by doing this.
“The reason we are really looking at this is not issues with Crown Cab, not because of people banging on our doors to open it,” said Mackrell. “We did a review of the bylaw because I think it’s time we open it to the ride-sharing companies. If you look at the bylaw as a whole, we kind of looked towards what the industry is going towards, looked as ways to improve it. Limiting the amount of licences is not very standard anymore … the market will dictate this as well. It’s just a fair advantage to everybody.”
Councillors had differing views on how far the new taxi bylaw should go. Councillor Len Taylor voiced support for maintaining minimum licences in the bylaw, setting those in conjunction with the taxi companies.
“I think limiting licences is a very important thing for a municipality to do as far as taxi cab services go,“ said Taylor.
Councillor Greg Lightfoot, however, made it known he thought the bylaw should ensure companies follow the rules and make sure the service is safe. Otherwise, he supported letting the market decide.
“If it’s a private enterprise, why are we limiting the amount of permits?” asked Lightfoot.
“If they want to come to town and say, yeah, we want to set up five taxi cabs and we want five permits and we want to set our rates at whatever, that’s their opportunity. I think with private enterprise, why are we dictating the amount of permits and creating a monopoly? I think we have to open it up.”
Discussion will continue at Monday’s Planning Committee meeting.