'We've got a war,' says Strathmore taxi business owner in bylaw showdown with town officials

A fight is brewing between drivers and town administrators in Strathmore that could spell the end for taxi service in the southern Alberta town, with neither side ready to back down.

New first aid requirement is one rule too many for town’s cab drivers

Martin DePuter, owner of Strathmore Taxi and Economy Taxi, worries that with first aid training comes the obligation to use it. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A fight is brewing between drivers and town administrators in Strathmore that could spell the end for taxi service in the community east of Calgary, with neither side willing to back down.

It should have been a routine piece of council business, but a new taxi bylaw, including a requirement for all drivers to take first aid courses, has blown up into a big issue.

"We've got a war going on," said Martin DePuter, owner of Strathmore Taxi and Economy Taxi. "I feel that this thing is going to endanger my taxi drivers and my business."

He's talking about the requirement of drivers to take first aid courses.

Strathmore's new taxi bylaw was passed a year ago and the town even extended its deadline for drivers to be trained in first aid and agreed to cover the cost of training by waiving its yearly driver fee. But the town's three taxi companies say it's not about the expense.

DuPeter is worried that with first aid training comes the obligation to use it, followed by possible legal and safety implications for drivers. Companies say they're not properly insured and drivers shouldn't be expected to do anything but drive.

Craig Kurpjuweit says he can drive someone to the Strathmore hospital in about three minutes, which would be faster than performing first aid. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"We're in a situation now where this thing has to be negotiated and dealt with or this thing has to go legal," DePuter said, adding legal solutions are already being looked at by the taxi companies.

"The drivers are refusing to be subjected to this dictatorship."

Taxi companies accepted other requirements in the bylaw, like undergoing criminal record checks and vehicle inspections, but say the first aid requirement is overkill.

"At any one given time we can make it to the hospital here in about three minutes, so stopping to give someone first aid would be a waste of time. It's kind of the straw that broke the camel's back," said driver Craig Kurpjuweit.

"Every time you turn around there's a new bylaw. It's too much," said fellow driver Bill Dwinnell. "I'm a taxi driver, I'm taking them to the hospital if they're sick, but I'm not touching them."

Taxi driver Bill Dwinnell says he'll drive someone to the hospital but doesn't want the responsibility of rendering first aid. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The owner of Strathmore's third taxi company didn't want to be interviewed but agreed broadly with the drivers' and DePuter's stance, saying they shouldn't be drawn in to first aid situations, also expressing concern around the current opioid epidemic and the possible risk from coming into contact with harmful substances and situations.

"There will definitely have to be consequences," said Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule.

"They would likely be ticketed for not complying with bylaws and eventually, if they kept on operating, we could pull their business licence. To help with the financing, council waived the 2018 driver permit fee and have added a first aid course in-house for these drivers, so there are no added expenses."

Fule says the idea of first aid training is just an example of best practices and is in the interests of the town's citizens and that he didn't expect it to turn into such a big issue.

Drivers say they'd quit rather than comply.

"It'll be up to the town. They say they're not going to back down. Well, good luck, because we're not backing down either," said DePuter.

"We're going to continue what we've been doing and take care of our community."

The deadline for companies to complete the first aid training is Feb. 23.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist covering all kinds of stories from northeast Calgary for web, radio, TV and social media, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey