After a 14 year stalemate, taxicab fares in Prince Edward County are on the rise due to an amended bylaw approved by Prince Edward County Council last Tuesday.
The bylaw regulates and governs all taxicab, limousine businesses and delivery businesses regularly used for hire.
The purpose of the bylaw is described as a means to ensure the safe and efficient travel of members of the public, as well as ensuring the competency of operator.
The bylaw is also described as being to “provide that the fares and rates are being regulated to protect the consumers by ensuring that fares and rates charged are fair to the public yet making it possible for the owners of taxicabs to properly operate and maintain their vehicles.”
Notably, no more than 30 taxicab license plates are to be issued in the County, with only 10 licenses granted per company.
The issue of taxicab fares had originally come before council during the April 15 virtual council meeting by way of a report from the Development Services Department.
Though there was near unanimous support for some sort of rate increase, councillors differed on their view as to how much that should be.
Councillor Bill Roberts raised the question as to whether or not ride sharing platforms such as Uber had been considered.
“I’m generally supportive of the staff recommendation. I’m just wondering what sort of thinking we’ve done to date with the idea of Uber- or other platforms-being options for the County? Generally speaking, Uber is less expensive,” stated Roberts. “Other municipalities have also adopted Uber as one of their alternatives for residents and visitors.”
CAO Marcia Wallace responded that there simply isn’t the market for such a platform here.
“Those platforms are not interested in us because we do not have the volume to make it work for them,” she said. “It’s not that they aren’t allowed, they just haven’t seen the market for it.”
Councillor Kate MacNaughton pointed out that, based on the size of Picton, the taxicab rates should not be comparable to those of larger, even urban, areas.
“I think we do need an updated bylaw, but I have concerns about the rate schedule because it doesn’t seem representative of the math that was included in the report sort of proposing other areas where there was a base rate of around $4 and a further charge per kilometre of between $1.70-$1.90,” argued MacNaughton. “Within the town limits, when I looked at the kilometres represented, Picton is a pretty small town and based on the numbers cited in other cities and larger towns, larger towns should have a slightly more expensive rate because of the time it takes to get from place to place. Our town is only a couple kilometres.”
MacNaughton added she would like to have the rate schedule reviewed to make sure it is fair.
“I think across the board, it’s a bit too high. I believe we need a bump, but I think the bump we’re seeing here is excessive,” she said.
Another issue discussed by council was that of the fare for Prince Edward Heights. Councillor Ernie Margetson argued that charging a substantially higher fare for those on the heights would be prohibitive for those who need taxi services the most.
“I talked to a couple of people regarding affordability of fares within Picton town limits and Prince Edward Heights,” said Margetson. “
Based on the kilometres involved, Margetson argued that the proposed round-trip fare of $24 from the centre of Picton to the farthest area of the heights was “excessive”.
“I think that adding a round trip from Prince Edward Heights of $24 seems to be excessive and could present problems of affordability,” he stated. “ Also, the rate within Picton going form $6 to $10.00…maybe that could be tempered somewhat because if you look at the distances, with a $4 base rate and $2/km, $10 may also be excessive for people who need that service.”
While pointing out that some further review may be needed for the rate increase in Picton, Councillor Mike Harper argued that the rural increase simply reflects a fair cost for such a service.
“I understand the vast majority of people who use this are perhaps lower income or seniors, so I think there is some legitimate points being made, but as we’ve all discussed they (taxi companies) haven’t had a raise for 14 years,” Harper commented. “To me the out of town fare although expensive, starts to reflect the reality of what it costs to have this service and pay these people properly. I would be in favour of leaving it ‘as is’ for the rural trips but we need to review what’s going on in Picton to make sure the affordability issue is taken care of.”
Councillor John Hirsch supported a previously mentioned phased approach for implementing a taxicab rate increase-one that would coincide with the implementation of transit.
“In terms of phasing in, I certainly agree with the idea, but one perhaps related to our implementation of mass transit which has, I gather, been put on hold,” said Hirsch. “This new rate schedule would mean going from Picton to Belleville is $60, which is out of range for a lot of people. Whereas, our mass transit, once it’s working, would provide a reasonable way to do that.”
Hirsch suggested that those areas that would fall within the mass transit plan catchment area would be good candidates for a phased approach to rate increases. However, he noted that any plans for mass transit have been put on hold for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
Ultimately, the matter was referred back to staff, as per Councillor Janice Maynard’s suggestion.
“I would prefer that we refer this to staff for a consideration of the rates and a phased approach to the fare increases recognizing there will be increases,especially in light of the COVID- 19 emergency,” stated Maynard.
The revised fare increases will be done using a phased approach. Rates within Picton will begin at $8, with all fares within two kilometres of the town limits beginning at $9. These rates will be adjusted to $9.00 and $10.00 respectively beginning January 1, 2022.
All other locations will be adjusted to the rate of $1.40 per kilometre, with that rate set to increase to $1.60 per kilometre as of January 1, 2022.
The rates and bylaws are to be reviewed every two years as of 2022.