Taxi! Taxi!

The City of Calgary taxi system is regulated by The Taxi Limousine Advisory Committee. (TLAC) From what is on the city’s web site, it appears the Commission has been around since 1973. The mandate of the TLAC is:

To provide advice and recommendations to Council to ensure high quality taxi and limousine services and to create and maintain a sustainable industry as specified in Bylaw 6M2007. The objective is to ensure public safety, service quality and consumer protection for customers and service providers. The TLAC will follow the direction of Council by responding to Council requests and making recommendations to City Council.

The composition of the TLAC is up to 16 members 5 of which may be members of the public. All members of the TLAC are appointed by Council for two-year terms and up to a maximum of two terms.

So, 5 members ostensibly represent the general public. The rest are directly associated with the taxi industry and other interest groups such as the Calgary Tourism, the hotel association, the Calgary Airport Authority, Calgary Police and the city’s administration. One group I am pleased to see represented is from the accessibility special interest group. TLAC is apparently self-funding.

To be eligible for appointment to TLAC one must be a resident of the city, the age of majority and possess some of these competencies:

– 3 to 5 yrs. experience as a board member
– Conflict resolution training or experience
– Policy & public administration knowledge
– Budget planning & financial management experience
– Research & analysis experience
– Good verbal & written communication skills

That all seems well and good. So why is the conventional public perception of the taxi industry in this city one of chaotic breakdown?

I use taxis often. Like many folks when arriving in a different city I grab a cab at the airport. This makes taxi drivers akin to a “director of first impressions” for a visitor. My expectations are very simple: I want the cab to be in safe, road-worthy condition, I want the cab to be clean, and I want the driver to be knowledgeable about the city. I can’t recall the number of times having to provide the taxi driver detailed directions to get to where I am going. I expect the TLAC to focus on these things. I am not sure if they do that despite the licensing requirement for a training program.

I have had the benefit of experiencing taxis in many cities on four continents and in such cities as London, Beijing, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Buenos Airies and Montevideo. All were different and each was in some way a reflection of its local culture. Varied though they were all these experiences were superior to most all personal taxi experiences in Calgary – with the possible exception of Houston. In that city, I just try to avoid the cabs.

I have to wonder if too much time is spent by TLAC trying to run the system for the benefit of the taxis and the brokers at the expense of good customer service. I also believe that the system will benefit from competition.

Uber logoSo along comes Uber. Uber is a venture-funded start-up and transportation network company based in San Francisco, California, that makes mobile apps that connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and ride-sharing services. The taxi establishment is opposed to it obviously because, and only because, it is competition to the status quo.

I have never understood why there is a limit on taxi licenses. Well I have concluded it is about the money. The brokers understandably want to protect their revenue and the quasi-monopoly pretty much does that.

However, I would argue that profitability should not be the concern of the regulatory authority. That is completely up to the operator. Any operator that can meet and maintain a high set of standards relating to safety of the vehicle, knowledge and competency of the driver should be able to be licensed. Perhaps even a centralized dispatch could be helpful. But wait, isn’t that what Uber is endeavouring to do?

It is time to modernize Calgary’s taxi system.

Somebody call me a cab!


 Edited: Correction – Taxi Limousine Advisory Commission was corrected to Committee.
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