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Proposed fines called unfair to cab, limo drivers

Council to vote on measure after committee approves it

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The City of Winnipeg is one step closer to adding new fines for inappropriate behaviour by drivers of vehicles for hire, despite concerns a full investigation may not occur prior to each penalty.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/03/2022 (330 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The City of Winnipeg is one step closer to adding new fines for inappropriate behaviour by drivers of vehicles for hire, despite concerns a full investigation may not occur prior to each penalty.

A city proposal calls to add a $250 fine for certain new offences, which would apply to drivers of taxis, ride-hailing vehicles and limousines regulated by the city.

However, city bylaws stop short of guaranteeing that each alleged violation must be investigated before a ticket can be issued, a lawyer for the Winnipeg Community Taxi Association told council’s public works committee on Tuesday.

“It is based on a ‘fine first and ask questions later’ mentality… We respectfully submit that is not fair to the drivers,” said Benjamin Hecht of Pitblado Law.

Under the proposal, fines could be levied against drivers who are found to have sexually harassed a passenger or have made lewd remarks toward them; insult, abuse, intimidate or threaten a passenger; ask a passenger for a tip or gratuity or indicate one is expected or required; fail to release a passenger from the vehicle at the passenger’s request; or accept or ask for collateral toward a fare payment.

While city officials have said an investigation would determine when fines are warranted, Hecht said that’s not guaranteed in the bylaw, raising the risk tickets could be issued before an incident is properly investigated.

The lawyer stressed the industry doesn’t tolerate harassment and the taxi association agrees these types of acts warrant fines and threaten passenger safety.

“We’re not saying scrap it all, don’t use it, just go back to the way it’s been and suspend drivers for any offence … We’re in favour of this kind of a process, we just think the process needs fine-tuning,” said Hecht.

He suggested the city should refine its definition of what constitutes each offence, since that could otherwise be left up to interpretation.

The proposed changes include a new $500 fine for drivers who use handheld electronic devices, such as phones, while driving. Hecht said such complaints could be tricky to assess, since some exemptions for handheld cellphone use are in place for professional drivers, such as allowing a one-touch pickup of business calls.

Those are key reasons why an investigation must be specifically required in city bylaws, not merely assumed to be standard practice, Hecht said.

He noted drivers also have concerns about passenger behaviour, such as riders failing to pay fares, which the fine update doesn’t address.

Existing rules include a $500 penalty for riders who fail to pay a fare.

The committee had postponed action on the fines in March to allow for more consultation.

A Winnipeg woman urged the committee to impose the changes Tuesday, arguing a clear penalty system is needed.

Rachel Sansregret had written to the public works committee, reporting that she was subjected to sexual comments during cab rides and once driven far away from her destination. On Tuesday, she told the committee that clear fines and expectations for conduct would heighten safety.

“None of the terrifying incidences I discussed were in any way normal,” said Sansregret, the CEO of the Winnipeg Indigenous Friendship Centre.

Grant Heather, Winnipeg’s vehicles for hire manager, said those concerns warrant immediate attention, which the new rules would help address.

Heather stressed tickets would be issued after a thorough investigation.

“They’re concerned that we’re just going to write tickets… every time we get a complaint, which is categorically not true,” said Heather.

With the exception of rare straightforward offences, like driving without a licence, Heather said most offences require a thorough probe.

“When we receive a complaint, we conduct an investigation… We reach out to the parties involved (and if it’s a taxicab), we download the taxicab video camera (footage),” he said.

On Tuesday, the public works committee approved the change, though a council vote is still required. The committee ordered a report on further consultations with the taxi industry about the fines for inappropriate conduct.

City staff were directed to create a safety and violence prevention campaign to address drivers’ concerns.

Joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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