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Taxi operators who say business has plummeted due to the pandemic are lobbying the city to temporarily eliminate two trip fees.
Unicity Taxi lost about 85 per cent of its normal business during the first week of April, said industry spokesman Ram Vallaru, general manager of Duffy’s Taxi.
The companies are asking the city — which regulates vehicles for hire — to waive a 10-cent general fee and a seven-cent accessibility surcharge on each trip they complete.
He noted the seven-cent fee isn’t charged when accessible vehicles make up at least 10 per cent of a company's fleet.
Drivers continued to work during the spring as social-distancing requirements shut down many businesses and drastically reduced calls for service.
Posted: 07/07/2020 2:08 PM
A black Toyota Sienna minivan pulled up to city hall Tuesday morning, with an Uber logo on its front window and the mayor of Winnipeg in the backseat.
Michael van Hemmen, head of city operations for Uber Canada, was behind the wheel. He and Mayor Brian Bowman emerged from the vehicle with face masks on, flashing thumbs-up in celebration of the ride-hailing giant’s long-awaited arrival in Winnipeg.
"Our ridership went down at the same time, so many businesses (were) closed. It was kind of a stand-still situation," said Vallaru. "We lost lots of business… the left-over business was very little."
He said cabs operated as essential businesses but are now facing serious financial challenges as a result.
Vallaru estimated about 1,500 Winnipeg families depend on the industry for their incomes.
"All of them are small businesses who are paying taxes in the city," he said. "Their livelihood is affected."
Vallaru said the city fees cost each major cab company about $15,000 per month during the pandemic.
The industry members hope the fees can be waived entirely, with the change backdated to March 20. They’d like that to continue until the provincial government lifts its remaining pandemic business restrictions, after which they hope business will return to more normal levels.
On Tuesday, council’s public works committee considered a motion to cut the fees by 50 per cent, going back to April 1.
Grant Heather, the city’s vehicles-for-hire manager, said cutting the fees in half would cost the city about $30,000 over April and May alone.
“All of them are small businesses who are paying taxes in the city. Their livelihood is affected.” ‐ Ram Vallaru, general manager of Duffy’s Taxi
Heather said that would create a financial shortfall for the city, since regulation of the industry is mandated to operate on a revenue-neutral basis.
"It would be a cost of approximately $15,000 to $20,000 of revenues per month. This would be unsustainable and we would need to begin to make significant cuts to our organization," he said.
Heather said monthly data showed the number of cab rides dropped about 60 per cent in April compared to the same month last year.
Some councillors expressed concern for taxi drivers and companies, urging city staff to enter further discussions on the topic.
"There has been a hardship to the industry," said Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan).
The committee voted to lay over any decision on adjusting the fees until its September meeting.
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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