THUNDER BAY – After taking years longer than anticipated to develop, it only made sense the final step in enacting the city’s long-awaited new taxi bylaw ran into a few speed bumps.
Thunder Bay city council on Monday night finally approved the new vehicle for hire and designated driver bylaw, which sets new guidelines for traditional taxicab companies as well as new app-based ridesharing services.
The new bylaw first appeared to pass unanimously – quickly and without discussion – during the city council portion of the meeting. However, immediately before adjournment a couple members of council expressed surprised that it had already been voted on and claimed to have not realized the item had been on the floor.
A recorded re-vote was subsequently held which initially failed to have the required two-thirds majority after Coun. Linda Rydholm, Coun. Trevor Giertuga, Coun. Iain Angus and Coun. Andrew Foulds all cast opposing votes.
Another re-vote was held, with Foulds voting in favour that time, allowing the bylaw to ultimately pass.
Coun. Brian McKinnon, who was in the driver’s seat during the process to bring the new framework forward, insisted the bylaw gives everybody involved in the industry clarity on the rules.
“It’s going to level the playing field because they know what the parameters are,” McKinnon said.
“They know what the rules are and they know what they can and can’t do. I’m not suggesting it was loose before but this is very prescriptive. Everything from the licencing to the safety of the passengers to now we have a committee that’s going to look at any complaints. This was never there before.”
The process to shift oversight of the taxicab industry from the Thunder Bay Police Services Board to city bylaw enforcement began in 2012. Pricing and availability of cabs – particularly at the Thunder Bay International Airport and during late night hours on holidays and weekends – were two of the driving forces behind the review.
A committee was formed to work on developing the new regulations and after years of meetings and consultations with stakeholders, a draft bylaw was presented last year that proposed removing a cap on rates and having an unlimited number of licences.
McKinnon said allowing companies to set their own rates will result in fluctuation and surge pricing but was optimistic the market will sort itself as customers find the best deal.
“New Year’s Eve, absolutely you’re going to pay a premium price. I don’t care who you’re getting … but it’s going to be the same,” McKinnon said. “There’s no way to get around that. I don’t anticipate there’s going to be collusion because I think the market is going to decide how much they can surge price at 1:30 a.m. when the bars are closing.”
The bylaw states that traditional taxis must have a meter running to calculate fares and customers of app-based pre-arranged services must be provided with a printed or electronic receipt showing the rate charged, total duration and distance of the trip and amount paid.
McKinnon said Uber and Lyft – two prominent app-based services that aren’t currently operating in Thunder Bay – have expressed interest in coming to the city if some minor changes are made to the bylaw.
There are three app-based companies that are currently in business, he added.
City administration had included a modification to the bylaw from its most recent draft in December, increasing the maximum age of vehicles to 10 years from the originally proposed seven.
Mayor Keith Hobbs, Coun. Joe Virdiramo and Coun. Aldo Ruberto were not in attendance at the meeting.