City councillors are looking into boosting local taxi rates in an effort to help save Hamilton's cab industry, which drivers say is beleaguered by sky-high insurance rates.

The city has hired a consultant to look at the taxi industry, and that report was due early next year. Now staff will instruct the consultant to work even faster to come back with a report for fall.

The goal is to keep afloat an industry whose drivers say they can't afford to keep going much longer. Hamilton cab drivers pay between $10,000 and $18,000 in insurance per car per year, and drivers who have been working for decades are getting out, said Jagtar Singh Chahal, chairman and CEO of Hamilton Cab, at a planning committee meeting Tuesday.

"This is a last-ditch effort to save this industry," he said.

The problem rests with the province, Coun. Chad Collins said. But the city needs to make this a priority.

As insurance comes up for renewal, "there are people who could become unemployed because of this issue," he said.

Local taxi drivers want the planning committee to approve higher start rates, Chahal said. Hamilton's start rate is $3.20, lower than Burlington at $3.50, Oakville at $4.50 and Toronto and Mississauga at $4.25. Boosting Hamilton's start rate to $3.90 would help drivers pay for insurance, he said.

Hamilton's cab drivers haven't seen a meter increase since 2008, he said. But if the start rate was boosted, Chahal said he would be happy with a per-kilometre decrease from $1.82 to $1.80.

The Ontario Taxi Workers Union, he noted, has a petition of more than 450 drivers in favour of a taxi meter increase.

About 100 Hamilton cab drivers held a demonstration in front of city hall in February protesting increased insurance rates. At that time, planning committee members voted to lobby the province about rising insurance rates.

Hamilton struggles with higher insurance rates because more drivers make insurance claims against cab drivers, Chahal said.

Some hire lawyers over collisions so minor that they only result in cracked taillights, he told the committee.