Closure of Burlington's largest taxi service a 'heartbreaking' loss
Burlington Taxi says it can't handle the insurance costs and the shortage of drivers
Burlington's largest and longest-running taxi service says it's closing because it can't find enough drivers, and the city's remaining service says it doesn't have enough cars to fill the gap.
Burlington Taxi will stop operating as of Nov. 26, says Scott Wallace, who's owned the business for 40 years. But it's not Uber or city rules forcing the closure, he says. Rather, it's punishing insurance rates and a shortage of drivers.
"We have lots of business," said Wallace, who started the company when he was 19.
"The phones are ringing. We just can't find people to work anymore."
Wallace said insurance rates of around $20,000 per year already act as a deterrent. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he had to lay off drivers, he said. At its peak, Burlington Taxi had 55 cars on the road, and last year, it shrank to four or five.
Earlier this year, the calls started coming again, Wallace said, and he tried to call the drivers back. But most had moved on, he said, and he couldn't find any new takers. Today, Burlington Taxi has 27 drivers and about 12 cars, which doesn't bring in enough money to pay for the call centre and other costs.
"I have lots and lots of work," Wallace said. "We turn down business every day, but there's no one to do it."
"It's been emotional for us. It's been emotional to watch this deteriorate."
All of this leaves the city of about 190,000 people with one taxi service, Gem Taxi. And owner Moe Amin said Gem only has four cars and no immediate expansion plans. He has more calls than drivers, too.
"Right now, everybody's shocked about [the closure]," Amin said. "Unfortunately, the city will be suffering for transportation."
'This is heartbreaking'
Burlington's mayor, Marianne Meed Ward, said the city is concerned. Burlington Taxi contributed a lot to the community, she said.
Staff have been working with the company on some ways to help, she said, but Burlington Taxi closed before those measures could make it through the government process. Meed Ward said councillors will likely debate some rule changes next week aimed at encouraging more taxis.
"This is heartbreaking," she said. "This is the loss of a valued and respected company."
Burlington Taxi, she said, is "a part of the fabric of what made Burlington Burlington, and it's just very, very sad."
The city controls taxi rates, Wallace said, but the city wasn't the problem.
'They're ubiquitous in this city'
"They tried and are still trying," he said. "I don't think the city or anybody wanted this ever to happen — certainly not us."
April Begg Goodis is a retired nurse, local senior and former chair of Burlington's seniors advisory committee. Burlington provides free weekday transit for seniors, she said, but it's not enough.
"Burlington Taxi is everything their website says," she said. "They're reliable. They're friendly. They're accommodating, and they're ubiquitous in this city."
Begg Goodis said Burlington may have to examine a partnership between Uber and public transit, similar to that offered in Innisfil.
"There definitely needs to be something that fills that gap."