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Police on ticket blitz, say cabbies

Officer denies crackdown on taxis encouraging bar patrons to drive

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/9/2009 (2861 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WINNIPEG - Taxi companies claim the Winnipeg Police Service is cracking down on cabs lined up outside nightclubs and making it more difficult to pick up intoxicated fares who might otherwise drive drunk.

Unicity Taxi, Duffy's Taxi and Spring Taxi managers and drivers claim police started in August enforcing traffic regulations too rigorously outside Winnipeg watering holes.

While the number of tickets issued for double-parking, seatbelt violations and other offences outside bars stands at no more than several dozen, the taxi industry is accusing the police of making city streets less safe by enforcing the letter of the law.

"I don't know why they are targeting taxi drivers, but they are targeting them specifically while they're getting customers outside bars," said Joan Wilson, general manager for Unicity Taxi.

"I think it's very unfair. A taxi driver is not going to sit double-parked on just any street. But when the bars let out, there are a lot of people on the streets and they require transportation because they are drunk. The police know this is happening and lie in wait."

A manager with Spring Taxi said his drivers are reporting the same situation outside nightclubs. And Duffy's Taxi has gone as far as to issue electronic warnings about approaching bars to its drivers.

"You go to a bar and the cars are parked in line and you have nowhere to park. So you pull alongside and put the flashers on. This didn't used to be a problem," said Duffy's driver Jamie Hogaboam, who said he received a ticket outside the Pyramid Cabaret on Fort Street on his first night back on the job after a summer break from the Winnipeg taxi business.

"I didn't get the message. I didn't know what was going on."

Unicity's Wilson said she is in the process of collecting photocopies of the offences racked up by her drivers and plans to meet with police. While she is primarily concerned about a loss of business, she also fears more drunk drivers could wind up on the streets.

"If you can't get a taxi, you're going to get into a car and drive, are you not?" she asked.

Cabbies who used to line up outside bars are now swooping in quickly when they learn of a fare, creating unsafe situations on streets were pedestrians are intoxicated, Hogaboam added.

"It was like that outside the Green Brier the other night," he said, referring to a West Kildonan hotel. "This is a joke. It's 12:30 in the morning. I'm in the North End. We have people getting stabbed and shot and babies being beaten, and they're pulling over cabs picking up customers?"

The Winnipeg Police Service, however, denies it is doing anything differently outside Winnipeg bars when it comes to traffic enforcement. "There is currently no initiative by the Winnipeg Police Service, but that does not mean that officers patrolling the area do not hand out tags when they see an infraction," Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Blair Good said in an email.

"If the taxis aren't breaking the law, they won't get tickets -- problem solved. If they are double-parking they will likely be interfering with other traffic in the area."

Doug Mowbray, president of the Winnipeg chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said he can see both sides of the issue, but the removal of intoxicated drivers from city streets is a more pressing public-safety concern.

"The police have a tough job. They have every good reason to uphold the law, but I agree the taxicabs help and I would like to see the drinkers off the road," Mowbray said.

St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves, who chairs city council's protection committee, said this dispute could be resolved easily if the taxi companies and the police sit down with each other.

He said he is inclined to believe there is no crackdown and said "it's a myth" police engage in specific traffic-enforcement practices merely to collect more cash.

The Winnipeg Police Service is projecting a $4.7-million budget shortfall by the end of 2009 due to lower-than-expected photo-radar revenue.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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