Uncollected collateral for unpaid rides: Unicity Taxi defends prepayment policy
Winnipeg readies pilot project requiring riders to pay part of fare up front at night
Paul Sandhu pulls open a drawer in a filing cabinet to reveal all the smartphones Winnipeg taxi riders have left behind as collateral when they have been unable to pay their fare.
Then he opens another drawer filled with more iPhones — and then another, and another.
"It doesn't mean [anything] to us because what can we do with these phones?" Sandhu, general manager of Unicity Taxi Ltd., told CBC News before showing two more piles of items left behind as collateral.
They include half-empty liquor bottles, purses, a pair of shoes, a box of house keys — even a wheelchair.
"You'd be surprised how much stuff every day we are getting."
The stacks of belongings, which get discarded every three months, are the reason Unicity says its drivers sometimes demand cash up front and are becoming more reluctant to accept collateral for an unpaid fare.
And it's why he's looking forward to a city pilot project that will require all riders taking a cab at night to prepay some of the fare.
City of Winnipeg spokesperson Adam Campbell says the program is expected to begin sometime in the next few months, adding how much of the fare will be required up front is something that will be finalized following public engagement with industry and residents.
A veteran driver points out that when a rider doesn't pay the fare, the cost of the gas and time comes out of the driver's pocket — not Unicity's.
Listen to veteran cab driver Tarlochan Gill talk about riders who skip out on their bills:
"It's all damage to my income, you know. Whatever I make I have to pay gas. I have to pay insurance. I have to pay repair," said Tarlochan Gill, who has been driving for the company for nearly 28 years.
For example, Gill says, when someone skips out on a $45 fare it could take him two or three hours to compensate for the loss, and then he has to wait in line to get another customer.
On any given day, he says, he can expect one customer to stiff him on a fare. Other days he might have as many four people rip him off.
Gill says he's had people jump out of his cab while he's been waiting at a traffic light. Others will say they are running into a house to get money but never return.
"They leave their bags. We drive them to their place. They said, 'hold on to my luggage — my stuff there. I'll go inside the house and bring the money.' Nobody comes."
Sandhu doesn't know how many of the items in the two piles really belong to the riders and what's stolen property.
"We don't report everything to the police," Sandhu said.
However, he says, all unpaid fares get logged by Unicity's internal system, which flags addresses and phone numbers that have a history of unpaid rides.
When a call gets flagged, Sandhu says, the driver has the option of asking for a deposit before beginning the ride.
"We go on the road to make money," he said. "We are not there to give free services. So we survive on people getting ride from us, paying us. We know we get ripped off every day."