Cab drivers in the Vancouver Island region have renewed their call for a pay-first system for taxis.
United Cabs taxi driver Paul Martin this week asked the Port Alberni city council to consider mandatory pre-payments, possibly in the form of a bylaw. "We are having an increasing problem with fare 'ripoffs,'" he wrote in a letter to city council.
In Nanaimo, the situation is very similar.
Drivers say they have little recourse to pursue fare evaders. In addition to lost money, anything that consumes their time is also costly. The risk of confrontation with a fare evader can also lead to the possibility of damage to their cab, which can multiply the costs of fare evasion.
"We do have issues with that, especially at nighttime," said Anup Kang, owner of Nanaimo's Yellow Cab service. "It could create a confrontation between the driver and the customer and so it's always a risk.
"Our drivers are trained to look at each situation and make sure they don't put themselves in harm's way," he said.
At present, a Taxi Bill of Rights is in place to govern the Metro Vancouver region. That statement of principles was created to ensure a high quality of service in an area where 50 per cent of the province's cabs operate.
The document - which does not apply to Vancouver Island or other regions in B.C. - allows a driver to request a deposit from a passenger. If the customer refuses to pay, the driver has the option to decline the trip.
A similar document that would apply to other parts of the province has been discussed, according to a spokeswoman with the Passenger Transportation Board.
"The board is actually looking at a voluntary taxi bill of rights for outside the Lower Mainland," said Jan Broocke. "We're going to implement it, but it's not at the implementation stage yet."
While taxi drivers throughout the province have the right to request a deposit before making a trip, some worry that customers might be offended by the request. There are also concerns that a deposit system does not apply the standard evenly across all customers and may still lead to fare evasion and confrontations between passengers and drivers.
B.C. Taxi Association president Mohan Kang said the trouble is that cabs provide a service and as such, the industry shies away from any practice that might offend a customer.
"It is up to the driver," said Kang. "He has to be the judge; he can't read peoples' minds, but he has to be professional.
"In Canada, all around the world, runners are an issue," he said. "Somebody can get hurt. The driver can get hurt."
Generally speaking, cab drivers in Nanaimo will only request a deposit if the trip takes them out of town, or the customer calls from a blacklisted address.
According to Charlene Nelson, a driver for six years and 20-year veteran in the industry, dispatchers keep a list of addresses where fare evaders call from.
A 'check 95' from the dispatch "means get money up-front," she said, adding she didn't personally feel at risk.
"They're not going to harm me - they just take off."
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