Three more ride-hailing applications for the North Coast, or Region 5, are currently under consideration by the Passenger Transportation Board, as of April 27, which if approved, will add to the three already granted for the Prince Rupert and Terrace region.
The Passenger Transportation Board, which is an independent licensing tribunal, is mandated to make decisions on applications relating to passenger directed vehicles in British Columbia, including ride-hailing authorizations.
Ride-hailing, also known as transportation network service (TNS) , is seen by many as direct competition to traditional taxi services, which are usually locally-owned and operated. With TNS, owner and operations do not need to be local as everything from booking a car, to tracking a car, to payment is completed online.
Prince Rupert owner of Skeena Taxi, Bill Langthorne, said he is not worried by the growing number of applications for ride-hailing companies in the area. He’s been with Skeena Taxi for more than 30 years and said he has weathered storms far greater than TNS.
Michael Diana, manager of Kalum Kabs Ltd. in Terrace, has concerns about ride-hailing companies saturating the market in a small town.
“Kalum Kabs is a local business. When we are working well we have 40 employees,” Diana said. “With ride-booking the drivers get a small percentage and all the rest goes out of town.”
Diana said he has dispatchers, cleaners and mechanics who are staff that work for the company. They are local people raising families.
“These are people we would have to lose if ride-share came in. They are laid off. These people will be struggling. We’d like to keep as much business as local as we can and we don’t want to lose that.”
Langthorne said over the years he has seen numerous licences approved, however, none of them are operating today, such as five different limousine companies that have wanted to set up shop during his time in the industry, but none have succeeded.
Skeena Taxi, and Kalum Kabs in Terrace, have opposed several recent TNS applications to the PTB, some which have been successful, like the denial of a licence to a Prince Rupert company in April, but some have not been successful, like the approval of Luck-to-Go’s licence to operate in the area, even though they are based in Victoria.
There are so many applications coming now, that it is hard to keep up with them and oppose every single one, Langthorne said.
Michael Diana, manager of Kalum Kabs in Terrace, said the taxi industry is a limited pool and many hands are grabbing at a small share. He believes in having business locally-based. He has concerns that if more ride-hailing applications, from out-of-town-based companies, are approved for the area, then it will affect business and layoffs may be inevitable for local staff.
“If ride-share comes in, all of a sudden there are three, six or ten more jobs that are gone and that money is not staying local,” Daina said.
Diana has seen owners of ride share companies, all of a sudden become multi-millionaires because so many people are made redundant to the business and are not required. The drivers get a small percentage, and the owners get the rest, he said.
“It’s just a syphoning effect in a small town,” Diana said. “We are all about keeping it local.”
Profitability is a big issue that keeps many companies from getting off the ground according to Langthorne, because the difficulty lies with finding drivers.
Currently, Skeena Taxi needs at least 10 to 15 drivers. They are running 20 cars on day shift and 13 to 15 cars at night.
Kalum Kabs in Terrace is echoing the same issues with recruitment and has been hiring drivers from Alberta. Even that has challenges, despite offering health and dental benefits, good wages, driver incentives, paying for the drivers to become trained and tested, Diana said. He is also currently looking into a pension plan.
“There is nothing ride-share offers that we don’t offer,” Diana said. “We have a limited amount of resources, and if ride share comes in we don’t have as much.”
Diana said ride-hailing companies can put as many cars in as they want and there is no limit from Prince George to Prince Rupert.
“They just flood the market with someone who wants to make an extra ten bucks here and there. That’s not a good thing for the economy. Everyone is commission based, so when you start spreading that around it can get pretty low.”
Langthorne said the taxi industry is failing all over B.C. with long hours for drivers and little pay. Many owner operators are retired and just want to top up their income.
Langthorne has parked his own car and is not currently driving. During COVID-19 things are even tighter for drivers with glass or plexiglass partitions having to be installed in the cars and passengers being limited to two in the back seat.
Despite Langthorne’s misgivings about the state of the taxi industry in today’s environment and increased competition with TNS, he says Skeena Taxi is going to continue to provide the best service to their customers.
“We’ve never closed. We are going to be here when it’s all over. We plan to be here when the dust settles,” Langthorne said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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