New Brunswick

Saint John commission backs significant taxi-rate increase

The Saint John Transit Commission voted Thursday to recommend taxi rates increase to at least $1.65 per kilometre from $1.10 a kilometre, which drivers say is the lowest rate in the country.

Group wants rates increased to at least $1.65 a kilometre from $1.10 a kilometre

The Saint John Transit Commission will ask city council to consider raising taxi rates for the first time in six years. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

After 37 years in the taxi business in Saint John, Jack Dorrington is calling it quits.

He says it's just too hard to make a living behind the wheel. 

Dorrington says that if the city doesn't raise taxi rates, more drivers will also leave the industry.

"We're at a point right now where we have to make a substantial decision or the taxi industry in the city is going to crumble," Dorrington told a public hearing into taxi rates, hosted by the city's transit commission on Thursday. 

Each year, the commission is obliged to review taxi rates, and that review is normally done in October or November, explained Ian Fogan, the director of transit and fleet for the city's transportation department. 

Because of current economic conditions, and feedback from the industry, Fogan said they decided to review it now so that a rate change could be implemented earlier. 

Taxi driver Jack Dorrington speaks to members of the commission during a public hearing on taxi rates on Thursday. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

The commission had planned to recommend the current rate be increased from $1.10 to $1.40 per kilometre. But after hearing from three drivers, commission members decided to increase the rate it will recommend to council.

Dorrington and the others told the public hearing that $1.40 simply wouldn't cut it. 

That, he said, isn't even where drivers wanted to be in 2016 — and gas prices have more than doubled since then.

Dorrington said Saint John has the "absolute lowest rate in the country." 

For example, taxi fares in Halifax increased this week for the first time in 10 years — from 1.69 to $1.75 per kilometre. 

In Saint John and Halifax, passengers pay a minimum of $5 and $4.90, respectively, to start the ride before the meter kicks in.

In the end, Saint John Transit Commission members voted to recommend a rate increase to between $1.65 and $2 a kilometre 

Dorrington, however, isn't optimistic that council will approve the minimum recommended by the commission. He said the industry asked for $1.65 in 2016, and council approved $1.10 — a rate which has not been increased since. 

Saint John cabbie Frankie Kasirye says drivers 'are barely hanging on.' (Roger Cosman/CBC)

"As of now … it's not profitable at all. We're just barely hanging on," driver Frankie Kasirye told the hearing.

He also spoke in favour of other recommendations that the commission will make to council, including an increase in the rate drivers can charge to wait for passengers. The recommendation is to increase that to a rate of $50 an hour. 

He also urged the commission to try to eliminate the ability for cab companies to arrange so-called contract rates with large businesses. Any special deals worked out by the cab companies are then enforced on drivers, who bear the entire burden of the reduction, said Kasirye. 

Needs council approval

The commission can make recommendations, but council still has to approve them, said Fogan. 

He said everything will be ready to present to council for the May 30 meeting. 

The price of gas has more than doubled since the last time taxi rates were increased in Saint John. This is what gas was selling for in one location in Saint John on Thursday. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Fogan said the annual review of rates was held earlier than normal so drivers could get an increase earlier. He said "the industry is facing a lot of pressure right now" — everything from inflation to the record-setting price of fuel.

"And with all those pressures coming together at once, they're not finding it profitable. … So they're faced with a dilemma right now of either removing the cars completely from the road or asking for a rate increase in order to be able to continue."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Urquhart is a CBC reporter based in Saint John. She can be reached at mia.urquhart@cbc.ca.

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