The current round of new taxicab licence hearings is about to go from the ridiculous to the absurd.

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This article was published 7/1/2009 (4666 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

The current round of new taxicab licence hearings is about to go from the ridiculous to the absurd.

Unicity Taxi Ltd. and Duffy's Taxi Ltd., the dominant players in the business, will be before the Manitoba Taxicab Board later this month to (sheepishly?) apply for new licences.

That's after vehemently opposing more than two dozen other applications for 802 new taxicab licences made by a broad assortment of industry insiders and well-intentioned outsiders.

Starting early last summer a flurry of applications -- now totalling twice the number of existing plates -- began to fill up the public hearing schedule of the Taxicab Board, the province's taxi regulator. Some of that was prompted by public complaints about a scarcity of cabs in the city, some was sheer enterprise on the part of the applicants. The largest application to date, for 150 licences, came from a newly formed co-operative of disgruntled drivers.

Joan Wilson, Unicity's general manager, said jokingly, "I expect they will be lining up outside the door to oppose our application."

She's likely not far off the mark.

The weird, unorthodox move by the two companies is either a cynical indication of their relentless desire to control the taxi market in Winnipeg, or a belief that they are the only ones capable of understanding the market and are doing what's best for the good cab-riding citizens of Winnipeg.

It's probably a combination of the two.

Needless to say, some of the new applicants -- the more high-spirited of whom already believe the fix is in and that Unicity and Duffy's will do anything to keep out the competition -- are fuming that after opposing their attempts to get into the business by arguing there are already enough cabs, they now have the nerve to reverse their stance and try to scoop up any new licences that might be issued for themselves.

Wilson acknowledges there is a little catch-22 in their position and said they have not really changed their position.

"We will tell the board that we still do not want to see any new cars," she said.

They will argue that if the board wants to issue new licences, then Unicity and Duffy's have the infrastructure in place to get them on the road.

(A Duffy's owner, who asked that his name not be used, said that if they did win the new plates he would not be surprised if they put them on the shelf, not on the road.)

Whatever this bizarre move by Unicity and Duffy's is about -- Wilson did not deny it's really about protecting market share -- it will not make the Taxicab Board's job any easier.

Regardless of the problems that may exist in the supply and demand of taxicabs in the city, the Taxicab Board needs the expertise that Unicity and Duffy's possess to ensure there is service in the city (after all, those two companies now dispatch 91 per cent of the 410 standard cabs in Winnipeg.)

Those companies argue there is barely enough business for their plate owners and drivers to make a living.

The others say there is plenty of business left on the table because of the arrogant attitude and poor service from the incumbents.

Some of the "he said, she said" that makes up much of the debate will be put to rest with the public release in early February of an independent U.S. consultant's report commissioned by the Taxicab Board in June, which the board has been mulling over for a few months now.

Whether or not it helped the process, the board is scheduled to decide on new licence applications some time in March.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

 

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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