December 16, 2019

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City to test pre-paid mandatory minimums on taxi service

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/2/2019 (313 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The City of Winnipeg is prepping a pilot project that will introduce mandatory minimum payments up front for all cab rides, in the hope the practice will put an end to safety concerns stemming from fare disputes and allegations of racial profiling.

The project, which is slated to get underway this spring and run for nine to 12 months, was announced by Grant Heather, city manager of vehicles-for-hire, at Tuesday's meeting of council's public works committee.

"What we're looking at is what a lot of other industries have already implemented. We're very familiar with it from the fuel, gasoline standpoint. You go to a gas station at ten o'clock at night, the expectation is you'll pre-pay," Heather said.

"There's been issues in the past where (taxi) fare disputes have come up. It's one of the most violent areas of safety for both drivers and passengers. A lot of times, it comes over misunderstandings, failure to pay."

The pilot project would make mandatory a minimum payment (the price of which would be determined by the expected length of the fare) required by all people requesting cab service during designated time slots.

A pre-paid fare could eliminate disagreements over fare disputes, said Grant Heather, the city's manager of vehicles-for-hire. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

A pre-paid fare could eliminate disagreements over fare disputes, said Grant Heather, the city's manager of vehicles-for-hire. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

If a customer refused to make the mandatory payment, service would be declined. It remains unclear what the time slots would be. As an example, Heather floated the possibility of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The project aims to address concerns raised by taxi drivers about getting stiffed on fares, while also addressing claims of racial profiling, often launched against the industry by Indigenous groups.

'There's been issues in the past where fare disputes have come up. It's one of the most violent areas of safety for both drivers and passengers. A lot of times, it comes over misunderstandings, failure to pay.' — Grant Heather, city manager of vehicles-for-hire

"We'd be looking at setting up a minimum bar. That could be a pre-authorized credit card payment. It could be cash up front. It could be a debit card payment up front of a minimum amount. The expectation would be that the meter would still run," Heather said.

"If the negotiated fare, or the mandatory fare, was $10 up front, and the trip worked out to be $15, the expectation would be that the passenger would pay the extra... Conversely to that, if you pay $10 up front and the trip is $8, the expectation would be that the driver refunds you the $2."

Ram Vallur, general manager of Duffy's Taxi, was present at the committee meeting Tuesday. He said the local cab industry is in support of the initiative.

The city's vehicle-for-hire department has the ability to implement the project on its own without council approval.

Mandatory minimum payments would be based on the distance of the ride. (Mike Aporius / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Mandatory minimum payments would be based on the distance of the ride. (Mike Aporius / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Committee chairman Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) said he thinks the pilot project is a good idea.

"We've heard that fare disputes are a major irritant for members of the public and also for drivers. If we can take away an irritant, and it works, then it's an area we should be exploring," Allard said.

When asked about allegations the taxi industry discriminates against Indigenous Winnipeggers, Heather said such practices are unacceptable, and he's hopeful the project could help alleviate those concerns.

"That is a complaint that we have heard. It's very unfortunate, because there is absolutely no reason it should be happening... We want to take away those issues with profiling, we want to take away those issues with fare disputes," Heather said.

"There's going to be hiccups when this gets implemented, because it's going to be new and we're going to have to retrain drivers to ask for that and retrain citizens, more importantly, that this is going to be asked for."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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