Taxi service to hit the road again in Smithers, B.C.
The only cab company in B.C.'s Bulkley Valley plans to resume service mid-August under new ownership
The only taxi service in B.C.'s Bulkley Valley will be returning to the streets of Smithers this summer, according to its new ownership.
Residents of the small town have not been able to call a cab since BV Taxi Service closed on Jan. 31, which for some has meant no options for getting somewhere in a pinch.
Now the town's taxi service is getting the wheels back in motion, and soon it will be shuttling people around town — and to and from surrounding areas up to 400 kilometres away.
In an interview Thursday, Patrick Hibbits, business manager and co-owner of Bulkley Valley Taxi and Transportation Ltd. in Smithers, told CBC's Daybreak North the community has offered strong feedback about the return of service.
"There's a lot of people with different kinds of needs, maybe it's a medical condition or age, and they just need that option to be able to get to the point," he said.
Hibbits and his business partner have sorted out most of the paperwork after beginning the process of taking over the taxi company in March.
After a bit of a delay due to COVID-19, the two got approved last week for licensing and are working on hiring drivers.
Former owner Joyce Pottinger told CBC in January the emotional toll of the job made it impossible to keep her cars on the road. She cited the inability to hire and retain drivers to keep up with demand as the main reason for closing.
The impacts of COVID-19 have highlighted gaps in crucial services in recent months, such as the need for a ride-booking option in a community like Smithers, which has a population of about 5,350 people, according to census data.
A decision dated June 23 on the transfer of ownership by the province's Passenger Transportation Board indicates there is an "urgent public need" for service in the area.
Hibbits says innovative technology will kick-start the renewed and improved service.
"We've seen that when we apply technology to a basic business, it really helps with efficiency and safety," he said, adding that he intends to introduce debit machines to the vans and an app to show the location of the driver and an estimated time of arrival.
People will be able to hail a cab in the street, call ahead or book online, he says.
LISTEN | Co-owner Patrick Hibbits plans to bring taxis back to Smithers, B.C.:
Fees will be based on fixed rates, as opposed to what Hibbits calls "surge pricing" used by other ride-sharing businesses. He did not provide the cost.
No in-app payment options will be available, which means customers will need to pay by cash, debit or credit in person.
Hibbits says he and his partner will need to bring novel ideas to the conventional taxi industry to stay in business.
"A lot of other taxi businesses [have] kind of gone with the owner-operator model, but I think we believe that having a living wage and benefits, as well as three weeks of paid vacation, really helps with driver retention," he said.
A job posting on WorkBC's website shows wages range from $16 to $20 per hour, plus tips.
New COVID-19 measures such as sneeze guards and limits on the number of passengers will be in place by launch time. Face masks will be used at all times, Hibbits said.
He expects vehicles will be back on the roads on Aug. 15.
With files from Bridgette Watson and Matt Allen