Facing new competition from ride-hailing services, Winnipeg taxi companies pledge to improve

Winnipeg's two main taxi companies, facing new competition from ride-hailing services, are vowing to upgrade their apps, improve their customer service and make amends with the city's Indigenous community.

Duffy's and Unicity promise to upgrade apps, offer better service and work toward reconciliation

Winnipeg taxi companies, facing competition from new ride-hailing services, are vowing to improve service. (CBC)

Winnipeg's two main taxi companies, facing new competition from ride-hailing services, are vowing to upgrade their apps, improve their customer service and make amends with the city's Indigenous community.

Today marks the transition of vehicle-for-hire regulation in Winnipeg from the provincial taxicab board, which formally dissolved at midnight, to the Winnipeg Parking Authority, which city council has assigned the task of overseeing both cab companies and ride-hailing​ services.

Three of those services — Edmonton-based TappCar, Calgary's Cowboy Taxi and Toronto's InstaRyde — have been licensed by the parking authority to operate in the Manitoba capital. TappCar and Cowboy Taxi intend to begin transporting passengers on Friday.

On Wednesday, the Winnipeg Community Taxi Coalition, which represents major Winnipeg taxi companies Duffy's and Unicity, announced plans to improve their service in order to remain competitive.

Coalition spokesperson Scott McFadyen said the taxi companies were listening when Winnipeggers complained about their services during debates last fall at the city council committees that approved the city's new vehicle-for-hire bylaw.

"We've been listening to what Winnipeggers had to say during the bylaw deliberations and we're acting on their feedback," McFadyen said Wednesday in an interview.

Scott McFadyen, who represents Duffy's and Unicity, said taxi companies must improve their services. (Travis Golby/CBC)
"We obviously are in a different business environment now. We're competing with Internet taxis, so we need to make sure we step up our game."

The taxi companies want to start by forming what McFadyen described as a "community advisory council" that would work toward reconciliation with the city's Indigenous community, which has raised concerns about enduring racist, sexist and otherwise abusive behaviour at the hands of cab drivers.

McFadyen said the cab companies will also sign the city's Indigenous Accord, a symbolic document that commits signatories to issue annual reports about their progress toward reconciliation.

McFadyen also said cab companies plan to improve customer service for Winnipeggers and visitors alike. "Often we're the first face that people see, so we really think that it's important that our drivers, you know, understand the City of Winnipeg," he said.

40% apps

McFadyen also said cab companies want to test out collision-avoidance technology and improve their mobile apps.

"Forty per cent of our rides are through apps right now. We obviously want to increase that number and part of that is ensuring our apps are working well," he said.

At the same time, McFadyen stressed cabs will continue to serve Winnipeggers without mobile phones. "We're there to serve those who don't have smartphones and credit cards," he said.

CBC News approached pedestrians on Broadway on Wednesday and informed them of the taxi companies' pledge to improve their service. Some were not impressed.

"I think they've had ample opportunity to do that in the past," said Bernadine Loran, adding all she wants out of a vehicle-for-hire company is good service.

Winnipeg Parking Authority policy analyst Colin Stewart said he believes Winnipeggers eventually will see improved service following the introduction of more competition in the city's vehicle-for-hire market. 

Don't expect big changes overnight: Stewart

"The general public should really not notice any immediate differences. We anticipate, based on feedback, that as the industry changes, they may expect to see some improvements in service across the board," he said.

It will take weeks for 60 new taxi licenses issued by the city to translate into more cabs on Winnipeg's streets, he said. Those licenses, doled out via lottery on Feb. 23, were issued to improve the ratio of Winnipeggers to taxis, as per city council direction in the fall.

Recipients of these new licences have until May 1 to get cabs on the street, Stewart said. After that, unused licences will be awarded to lottery winners who were placed on a waiting list, he said.

We're quite concerned that the Winnipeg Parking Authority doesn't have any capacity to enforce any bylaw infractions that may occur with Internet taxis.-  Taxi Coalition spokesperson Scott McFadyen 

This deadline was instituted to prevent cab companies from obtaining licences on a speculative basis and preventing them from entering the market, Stewart explained.

The cab companies, meanwhile, are skeptical of the Winnipeg Parking Authority's ability to replace the taxicab board as a vehicle-for-hire regulators.

"We're quite concerned that the Winnipeg Parking Authority doesn't have any capacity to enforce any bylaw infractions that may occur with Internet taxis," said McFadyen, claiming taxis remain at a competitive disadvantage because they must operate with shields, panic buttons and emergency lights.

Stewart said it will be up to city council to determine whether the parking authority regulates vehicles for hire on a permanent basis. It's possible the city could create a new agency to handle the task, or hand it to Winnipeg Transit, he said.

Stewart also said the authority has fielded queries from vehicle-for-hire companies that are not yet licensed to operate in Winnipeg.

Representatives from Uber and Lyft, North America's largest ride-hailing companies, are in Winnipeg today to meet with officials and media outlets.


Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.