British Columbia

'Dark side' of Smithers drives only local taxi service out of business, says operator

Joyce Pottinger is closing the only taxi service in Smithers because the emotional distress of the job has made it impossible to retain drivers for her vehicles.

Only cab service in B.C.'s Bulkley Valley to close  Jan. 31

Joyce Pottinger, who has owned the only taxi company in Smithers for more than 13 years, says the inability to attract and keep drivers has forced her to shut down the service. (Ang Aslin)

The only taxi service in the town of Smithers, B.C., closes Jan. 31 because, according to its operator, the emotional toll of the job has made it impossible to keep her cars on the road.

Joyce Pottinger has owned Bulkley Valley Taxi Service for more than 13 years. She says, because of the inability to hire and retain drivers, she has not taken a full day off since her daughter's wedding. That was a decade ago.

"I can't do it anymore," she told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk in an interview.

Pottinger said she needs seven drivers to meet the demand for the company's three taxis. However, every driver she's brought on, except for one, has quit. Some last as little as an hour or a week.

'Mighty ugly things that happen inside my cabs'

The reason, she said, is the "real dark side of Smithers" that they see from the driver's seat. 

"There's the drugs. There's the alcoholism. There's the domestic disputes. There's the hospital emergencies," Pottinger said. "There [are] mighty ugly things that happen inside my cabs."

"That's the main reason," she said. "My drivers that have left have said 'I don't care what kind of money you're paying me, I'm not dealing with this,'" she said.

Those disturbing encounters represent a tiny fraction of their fares, but Pottinger said they weigh heavily on the drivers. 

 "I've almost needed a counsellor at times to deal with some of the people that you get in your cab and you're sitting two feet away from them."

Pottinger said she has continued driving nine- to 12-hour shifts, seven days a week because the service is needed. 

A sign outside the town of Smithers in northern B.C. (bunlee/Shutterstock)

In the past, she enlisted relatives as drivers, including her son-in-law and her sisters. Even two of her daughters drove for a while, but she put an end to it after she had to call police about customers who would not get out of the cab. 

Without a taxi service, she predicts that people coming and going from the airport, the hospital and other locations will have to rely on friends, family, community services or ambulance service. 

Business response expected

Smithers' acting mayor Gladys Atrill said while the town's council has not formally discussed the impending loss of taxi service, some private businesses are planning their own arrangements to shuttle customers from the airport into town. 

Taylor Bachrach, the NDP member of parliament for Skeena-Bulkey Valley, said the loss of the only taxi service for the region revives wider safety issues around transportation in the north.

"We've just had this conversation about the loss of Greyhound," he said. "It just adds to those concerns." 

Meanwhile, Pottinger remains hopeful that taxi service will return to the town. She said she is in discussions with a potential buyer for the business. 

To hear the complete interview with Joyce Pottinger on Daybreak North, tap the audio link below. 

At the end of January, Smithers will no longer have a taxi service. That's because after 15 years on the job, Bulkley Valley Taxi driver and owner Joyce Pottinger no longer feels she can continue. She speaks with Carolina de Ryk. 9:41

With files from Daybreak North 

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