Many Red Deerians who need a taxi or ride share can’t get one — particularly when leaving major events at Westerner Park on weekends.
This dilemma leaves Red Deer city councillor Vesna Higham questioning whether the city’s licensing requirements are too onerous for Uber and Lyft drivers and those from other ride-sharing companies.
During Monday’s council meeting, Higham referred to two letters received as feedback during the City of Red Deer’s review of Vehicle for Hire bylaw.
Westerner Park CEO Mike Olesen gave his strong support in writing to having more ride-sharing opportunities in Red Deer.
“As the hosts of numerous major events on a weekly basis, we regularly experience the frustration of our attendees that they cannot reasonably get a taxi leaving our events,” wrote Olesen.
Another letter from Yanique Williams, public policy manager for Uber, stated Red Deer has 60 per cent fewer Uber drivers and ride-haring trips taken than comparably sized Lethbridge.
Williams wrote: “The current municipal licensing regime in Red Deer is highly complicated and resource-intensive to administer. The complex and, at times, duplicative regulations create barriers to entry and impose costs on drivers and riders…the number of drivers on the Uber platform in Red Deer remains depressed with sometimes fewer than 10 drivers taking a trip in a given week, which not only hurts drivers but also residents who are looking for alternative and safe transportation options.”
Higham said she’s concerned local citizens are not getting good access to ride-sharing services because the city is regulating individual drivers, asking them to pay licence fees and fill out paperwork, and not their brokerage companies, such as Uber or Lyft.
The councillor knows the main aim was to ensure passenger safety, but she added there appear to be some unintended consequences. “If some drivers are finding it too expensive and too much hassle, maybe we should let the brokerages do it.”
Higham also brought up the veritable monopoly of taxi service in Red Deer, noting one of the city’s two established taxi companies brought out the other.
Since then, a new company, 94 Cabs, has started up in Red Deer. But Higham said the new company holds just six out of 134 licensed taxi plates in the city.
Out of the total 134 taxi plates given out in Red Deer, she noted 30 to 40 of these licenses were in-active — “people are just sitting on them, not using them” — which doesn’t help the Red Deerians who need access to a taxi.
Michael Arend, operations manager for 94 Cabs Ltd., based in Lethbridge, said his company could put seven additional new taxis on the road in Red Deer “immediately,” but can’t get licence plates for them from the city.
Meanwhile, he knows 30 taxi plates that were given out to other companies are going unused. Arend hopes the City of Red Deer will reconsider how plates are assigned. He noted in Lethbridge, taxi licences are attached to drivers and not vehicles.
City council heard on Monday that local demand for cab services can be very inconsistent. For instance, business dropped off noticeably after the city’s two nightclubs, Long Riders and Bellini’s closed in January.
Given the issues around local availability of taxis and ride shares, Higham and other councillors supported asked staff to investigate how to improve access — including whether there were better ways to regulate ride shares, and whether there are ways to make taxi license holders utilize their licenses.
Council also approved the following recommendations for the bylaw: To replace the age-based restriction on taxis with an upper mileage limit of 350,000 km, explore options related to plate limits, to lift the minimum charge for taxi customers, and to explore additional options for regulating transportation network companies.
An updated Vehicle for Hire Bylaw will be coming back to city council for first reading later this fall.