Level the playing field in the livery industry says Calgary city councillor

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal wants to level what he says is an uneven playing field between Calgary's cab industry and transportation network companies (TNC) like Uber.

'We do have a duty to make sure there's fairness'

Calgary councillor George Chahal wants to level the playing field between taxi companies and transportation network companies (TNC) such as Uber and Lyft. (CBC)

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal wants to level what he says is an uneven playing field between Calgary's cab industry and transportation network companies (TNC) like Uber.

Chahal spoke to The Eyeopener on Monday about a motion he will be introducing at next Monday's council meeting.

Below is an abridged version of that conversation. 

Q: What do you mean by 'levelling the playing field?'

A: This is just about bringing some fairness back to the industry. The taxi industry over the years has contributed several million [dollars] to an [emergency] reserve fund, and this year contributed extra $373,000, compared to nothing for TNC's  [Transportation network companies].

This is a little bit of the problem we have. Taxi drivers pay more per year to drive a taxi than somebody from a ride-hailing company would.

Q: What would you like to change?

A: What I proposed in committee meeting ... was eliminating the new taxi setup fee, which would save the taxi driver $140 per setup fee — and [also] increasing the fees for TNC's, so … we would come a little bit closer to [fee] parity.

Q: What fees?

A: Taxi drivers pay a $312 training fee while TNC drivers don't pay anything. These are the fees that go to the city's coffers, that the city collects from the livery industry.

There's another disparity that a lot of drivers tell me about, which is that they have to install a camera, which I think is a really good thing for driver safety and consumer and public safety — but TNC's do not have to have a camera.

 I'm bringing a motion forward to see if we can have a better way for everyone to have training. Also to look at other options for cameras — do we need to have cameras? I think we do.

But make sure everybody who's in the industry has some kind of device, so they can record and save information just in case there's an issue, you can look into that. 

[For example], they pick up a passenger who vomits or soils their car, that's $100 what they can charge a passenger — and that's a big issue [for a taxi driver], because they spend $80 to $100 cleaning the car, and then they'd lose their car. It would be off the road until the car dried, because if you shampoo and clean it, which could be half a day to a day.

So we looked at increasing that [fee] from $100 to $250.

And what we heard from consumers was, well, sometimes there's a feud on that — and that's what's great about having a camera on. You can go back to look at it.

Calgary taxi drivers pay fees and face requirements that transportation network companies do not, which Ward 5 councillor George Chahal hopes to address with a motion he's making to Calgary city council. (CBC)

Q: There have been a lot of discussions about ride-sharing at city hall. Haven't we already had this conversation? Why change the system now?

A: I don't know if we completely had the conversation looking at the impact it's had on the taxi industry — which has been providing service to Calgarians for decades.

It's evolved and changed and there are a number of issues through the industries over the years that still haven't been solved.

There's [the issue of] the number of taxi plates that came on [the market at the same time] we had a slowing economy. [Then] the TNC's came into the marketplace, and then there was a big supply and demand issue.

There still is a huge disparity between what a driver pays in the taxi industry and what they pay on the TNC side. And that's what we have to fix.

Q: But isn't this a case of a technological advance changing the game? Is this something the city should get involved with?

A:  It's our job to manage the livery industry. If we're in the industry we need to manage it properly — or then maybe as a city we need to get out and let the industry decide on its own.

But we currently manage an industry. We have 1,883 plates the city has issued to taxi drivers, and we do have a duty to make sure there's fairness in the industry, and we don't pick winners and losers.

We hear from some Calgary taxi drivers who are struggling to compete with ride-hailing services like Uber and also from Councillor George Chahal who has a proposal to help the situation. 10:55

As long as it's fair for everybody to compete, and have the opportunity to earn a fair living.

Let's just have rules that everybody knows, that's fair for everybody, the cost structure is comparable — and then, we don't need to get involved in the day to day structure.

With files from The Eyeopener

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca