September 15, 2019

Winnipeg
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Taxi prepayments must be unbiased

Editorial

To understand why taxi drivers want payment up front, we should imagine ourselves in the driver’s seat.

We go to the location requested by the passenger, turn off the meter and announce the fare. The passenger ignores their obligation to pay, opens the door and runs.

Hiring a commercial service and then skipping out on the payment is called fraud, but semantics don’t help the driver who is trying to eke out a living.

As it currently stands, Winnipeg cabbies have no good options to prevent fraudsters from getting free rides. Lock the doors until the passengers pay? The drivers could be criminally charged with forcible confinement, and possibly assaulted by passengers outraged about being constrained. Phone police? Freeloading passengers are long gone by the time help arrives.

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To understand why taxi drivers want payment up front, we should imagine ourselves in the driver’s seat.

We go to the location requested by the passenger, turn off the meter and announce the fare. The passenger ignores their obligation to pay, opens the door and runs.

Hiring a commercial service and then skipping out on the payment is called fraud, but semantics don’t help the driver who is trying to eke out a living.

"Drivers have told the media they typically get stiffed on a fare every day, sometimes several times a day"

As it currently stands, Winnipeg cabbies have no good options to prevent fraudsters from getting free rides. Lock the doors until the passengers pay? The drivers could be criminally charged with forcible confinement, and possibly assaulted by passengers outraged about being constrained. Phone police? Freeloading passengers are long gone by the time help arrives.

Drivers have told the media they typically get stiffed on a fare every day, sometimes several times a day.

The lack of recourse for drivers who are getting cheated out of their rightful payment is the motivation for a pilot project that has been approved by the city hall committee that regulates taxis. The experiment — it will start by autumn and last nine months — will let taxi drivers ask some passengers to pay a portion of their fare at the start, rather than the end, of their rides.

Unlike planes and buses, taxis don’t demand prepayment. (Wayne Glowacki / Free Press files)</p>

Unlike planes and buses, taxis don’t demand prepayment. (Wayne Glowacki / Free Press files)

According to Grant Heather, manager of the municipal body that regulates taxis, limousines and ride-hailing, the project is about reducing conflict and reducing the likelihood that passengers will skip out on a fare. He added that such conflicts occur most often at night.

It seems a reasonable way to ensure people pay for the service provided, but there is concern that the pay-before-you-go system will unfairly target Indigenous people.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas noted some drivers are already asking for prepayment, even before the pilot project begins, and he alleged drivers are disproportionately targeting Indigenous women, some of whom have also reported harassment and inappropriate behaviour by drivers.

Such allegations are concerning. In a city trying to rise above deeply entrenched racism, it would be wrong — deeply, alarmingly wrong — for taxi drivers to request prepayment based on the ethnic appearance of a passenger.

The city is currently seeking public input on details of what should be allowed under the pilot project, such as defining the circumstances in which drivers can request prepayment.

Here’s our input: prepayment for all, or prepayment for none.

"After all, people have to pay in advance when they engage other types of transportation"

If people are prepared to pay for their taxi ride, it should matter little to them whether they pay at least a portion of the ride in advance. It can be paid in cash or through debit- or credit-card authorization.

After all, people have to pay in advance when they engage other types of transportation. On airlines, for example, if a would-be passenger said they would pay only after the flight lands in Toronto, that person would not be allowed to board. City buses, and the highway bus firms that replaced Greyhound, also require payment before passengers ride. Ride-hailing services already have a system that prevents fare jumpers from riding for free, requiring passengers to have credit-card approval in advance.

Winnipeg taxi drivers are a historic anomaly to this common practice of paying in advance for transportation. It’s understandable drivers want to be treated fairly, but fair treatment includes devising a system in which prepayment requirements are applied fairly and without discrimination.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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