Prince Rupert’s Skeena Taxi manager unconcerned by B.C.’s ride hailing regulations

Skeena Taxi and ride hailing services have differences in operating models

Skeena Taxi’s manager isn’t sweating the new regulations coming into effect in September, which will allow ride hailing service such as Uber and Lyft to apply for licence applications in B.C.

“We are not trying to block any competition, we just want a level playing field. That’s what we said since day one,” Bill Langthorne, Skeena Taxi manager and shareholder since 1986, said.

WEB POLL: Would you like to see ride hailing services come to Kaien Island?

The new regulations require transportation network companies to pay $5,000 for annual licence fees, and 30 cents per ride that are not accessible to the passengers with mobility issues.

Drivers must also possess a Class 4 licence. A new ICBC insurance category for ride hailing vehicles is in the works and the Passenger Transportation Board will set rates for each region, as it does with taxi services.

Skeena Taxi is part of the BC Taxi Association for 40 years, representing companies outside the lower mainland. On Tuesday, July 9, consultations were held in Prince Rupert with Langthorne and representatives from the Transportation Board present.

READ MORE: B.C. ride hailing licence fees set, applications accepted in September

“Of course business will go down,” Langthorne said. “It’s more people eating from the same source of pie. We survived many many changes in the industry, we’ll remain viable and adjust. We’ve been operating for 53 years, 24-7 and never closed for one hour.”

“I’m 76 years old and if I start worrying at this point in my life I may as well give up. There used to be 13 cab companies and they all amalgamated and joined with Skeena which pays for all their fees so they can make a living,” Langthorne said.

Differences in style

Skeena taxi has 45 licences owned by the company to keep the costs down for the drivers so they can make a living said Langthorne, who added that the company has been debt-free for the 30 years he has been managing. Drivers can then buy shares from a shareholder which allows them to operate a taxi.

Skeena Taxi also has one wheelchair-accessible vehicle that is subsidized by the company. Recently they had acquired one more licence for a disability vehicle, but have not yet found someone willing to invest and purchase it.

Langthorne says their business is operated to suit the needs of the clients and workers on the island and is not sure ride hailing services are ready to do the same.

“Ride hailing have not applied for a single accessible vehicle because they know operating it is detrimental to business and they won’t find investors. There is also no local employment on the dispatching side,” said Langthorne.

“But as long as Uber and Lyft are protecting their employers then great. I hope they treat them well but I don’t know how they are going to police it.”

READ MORE: Uber and Lyft drivers strike across the U.S.

Uber and Lyft have been under fire from employees everywhere who say they are treated like contractors rather than employees.

The 125 drivers and seven office employees, including dispatchers, that work at Skeena Taxi are all unionized. Langthorne said they are not allowed to work more than 66.5 hours and must take a mandatory day off per week, with employees taking turn during the morning and night shifts. This stands in contrast to ride hailing services, where workers set their own unregulated hours.

“A car is ready to go sitting on the road all the time. Emergencies, we’re there. Someone’s pregnant in the middle of the night, we’re there,” Langthorne said.

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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