DURING their last weekend of operating in a virtual monopoly, city cab companies failed to give customers a compelling reason not to turn to ride-hailing options that are set to hit Winnipeg streets.
That’s according to Kaleigh Hamilton, 34, who said she nearly found herself stranded Saturday after being unable to get a cab for hours after Festival du Voyageur shut down — adding she was far from the only one.
"There was a massive crowd leaving the park, which is to be expected. But there were absolutely no cabs anywhere. It’s a service-based business. They know a festival is going on, so you’d think they would send a large amount of taxis there. This should be their bread and butter," Hamilton said.
"We ended up walking up to Provencher (Boulevard), thinking we might have better luck there. Still, no cabs."
Then Hamilton and her friend bumped into some people they knew and decided to pop into a nearby bar to hang out. She said it wasn’t until 1 a.m. they decided to head home, adding that’s when the problems really began.
Hamilton said she booked a cab with Unicity through its app and, after about 15 minutes, was informed one was being dispatched. Eventually, she got a notification on her phone saying her cab was approaching, so she stepped outside to wait. But then she got another notification saying the cab was inexplicably cancelled.
She was unable to book another through the app, so she started calling Unicity and Duffy’s to book over the phone. She says it was a frustrating ordeal involving lengthy hold times and calls that kept getting disconnected.
It wasn’t until 2:45 a.m. that she was able to finally get through to a dispatcher. By that time, she said there were around 30 people all trying to get cabs outside the bar. While they waited in the cold they shared stories about the difficulty of getting a cab in Winnipeg, she said.
"It was sort of ridiculous. All these people were trying to catch cabs and trying to leave. For me, at that point, it’s that horrible feeling of being stranded... You go from having a great night to then not being sure how you’ll get home," she said.
"People started talking about, ‘Well, maybe I should just walk.’ People talking about walking downtown, not a close walk, late at night, when it’s cold. That’s not exactly the safest thing to do. The reality is, you shouldn’t have to worry about not being able to get home at the end of the night. I’ve never been in a city before where you have to wait this long for a ride."
By the time Hamilton finally got home it was well past 3 a.m. Then, as she stepped out the cab, she claims the driver sped off before she even had her feet on the curb, nearly clipping her in the process.
And it wasn’t just those leaving Festival du Voyageur who had difficulty getting a taxi over the weekend. Photos shared on social media show a taxi wait line at the Richardson International Airport that goes from the curb all the way inside the terminal.
According to Tyler MacAfee, director of communications and public affairs for the Winnipeg Airport Authority, that’s a pretty common occurrence.
"To be honest, it’s not an uncommon thing for us to see, especially on a weekend. I think it just really reinforces the message that we need additional services in Winnipeg. More taxis, ride-sharing, whatever the direction is, the airport’s position is we need more service," MacAfee said.
While more service is coming as of Friday — when the ride-hailing company TappCar is set to roll out its Winnipeg operation — it remains unclear just how many more vehicles will be on city streets. As of Monday, roughly 300 people had applied to drive for the company.
Scott McFadyen, spokesman for the Winnipeg Taxi Coalition, said he feels a lot of criticism directed at the city’s cab companies is unwarranted. He also notes that cab companies aren’t in charge of how many taxi licences are issued and — by extension — how many cabs are on the street.
"The cab industry doesn’t have the best reputation, and I think much of that is unfair. But we are certainly striving to improve customer service. I think there are certain sectors that people don’t like, such as cable companies or phone companies. It’s similar to the taxi industry, and I believe it to be unfair," he said.
But Hamilton counters that city cab companies have had years to improve customer service and so far have not succeeded.
"You can wait and be patient, but the fact remains that there should be a way, in a reasonable time frame, to leave a place at any time of day and get home safe. Especially in a city this size. Cab companies need to provide the service they’re here to provide," she said.
"Without people needing rides, these companies don’t have a business. So, the fact customers are being treated so terribly and people are standing outside waiting for hours and hours and hours, it just blows my mind."
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.