A bylaw amendment aimed at preventing unlicensed taxis from operating in Thompson passed first reading at the Jan. 18 council meeting with only Coun. Jeff Fountain opposed.
The proposal is to add a new part to the bylaw consisting of general prohibitions against providing or offering to provide transportation services, allowing a vehicle to be used or offered to be used to provide transport services or a person or business dispatching a vehicle unless they are in compliance with the bylaw.
A fine of $500 for offering to provide transportation services contrary to the Taxicab Bylaw will also be added to the fees and fines schedules if the amendments are approved. Allowing or offering to allow a vehicle to be used for transport services or dispatching a vehicle contrary to the provisions of the bylaw would be punishable by $1,000 fines.
“These proposed changes exclude the opportunities that may be presented by an Uber type business,” said Fountain, referring to the ride-arranging app while explaining that he would not support the Taxicab Bylaw changes. “My understanding in reading both the bylaw and this change is that this would close those opportunities in the future under this current bylaw.”
City manager Anthony McInnis said that the way the bylaw changes are worded would prevent such services from operating but that future changes can be made to the bylaw, which is being overhauled over the winter and into the spring, according to public safety manager Sonya Wiseman.
“There’s incidents of vehicles that are being used for informal hire,” said Mcinnis. “There was an instance of the RCMP pulling over a taxi that basically set itself up without any of the safety equipment nor a licence. So that’s why the committee had recommended some of these changes in the short term to prevent that sort of behaviour with the idea that an overhaul of the entire bylaw be done in 2021.”
Coun Earl Colbourne expressed unqualified support for the changes.
“Being a former taxi driver myself this is well-needed, I think,” he said.
Other councillors said the time to worry about excluding ride-arranging services would be when they approached the city.
“We do need this to limit the underground taxi business but if a legitimate business came by such as Uber would we still be able to reopen the door,” said Coun. Andre Proulx.
“If we want to amend it in the future to accommodate a ride service such as Uber we can and it’ll help to make sure that the playing field is level in the meantime and increase the safety for passengers as well,” said Coun. Braden McMurdo.
Fountain said the wording of the bylaw was vague, which was another reason he couldn’t support it.
“[It] could potentially be used to prevent people for providing transportation services, people that are needy and out of the goodness of their heart and maybe even without payment,” Fountain said. “I would hate to have a law, a bylaw on the books that would prevent that type of goodwill.”
The changes have to be approved at second and third reading before they are added to the bylaw.