Taxi-sharing as region’s transit answer

(February 10, 2014) Lawrence Solomon’s call for an overhaul of how taxicabs are licenced could apply to the Windsor-Essex region, reports WindsorOntarioNews.com.

Written and published by WindsorOntarioNews.com on January 26, 2014

If Essex County’s municipalities won’t invest in more public transit what’s to prevent them from overhauling their taxicab bylaws and allow regular taxis to help fill the void for people who don’t have cars?

Each municipality is currently governed by its own taxi bylaw. Generally speaking taxis operate only within their distinct municipalities. Sure, they can drive fares from one municipality to another – such as from Windsor to Essex – but they can’t pick up in Essex and take fares back to Windsor (or vice versa).

Lawrence Solomon, executive director of the Toronto-based Urban Renaissance Institute, thinks that’s a lot of nonsense. In a recent article in the Financial Post he calls for an overhaul of how taxicabs are licenced. Now they’re highly restricted at the municipal level both in terms of how many “plates” or licences are issued as well as where cabs can pick fares up. In Windsor there are 218 issued plates. [See Lawrence Solomon’s “Fill ‘er up, with people”.]

“Cabs would operate more fully still by ripping up other regulations, such as those banning the sharing of cabs by unrelated passengers travelling along complimentary routes,” Solomon says.

Solomon says this would not only be a huge boon to the travelling public but it would save millions of dollars in infrastructure (buses) by cash-strapped municipalities. “The cab-sharing concept is so sensible that Environment Canada is trying to encourage Canada’s local municipalities to ease up on their cab regulations,” he writes.

Solomon’s column was focused more on large urban centres where roads are congested but where “too many cars run mostly empty, too many buses run mostly empty, too many taxis roam mostly empty.” But he said the same could apply to Windsor-Essex. “Shared taxis would be ideal,” he said when told about this region’s largely urban and semi-rural character with contiguous municipalities having no public transit.

By shared cabs he means that a group of strangers book a cab for the same ride. If the fare is, say, $47 between Windsor and Belle River (the current flat rate) that could be divided among three or four passengers. That would make interurban transit locally more viable for a great many people who don’t have or can’t use cars such as pensioners. Today, with most of the city’s taxi fleet made up of vans, even more passengers could be accommodated for single trips.

Michael Chantler, Windsor’s Deputy Licensing Commissioner, says the city’s taxicab bylaw allows taxis to pick up a group of different people to share trips. “There’s nothing to prevent that in the bylaw,” he says.

Water Bezzina, general manager of Vets Cabs, also says that “logistically” there’s nothing preventing his company from doing that now. He says with cell phone and other technology arranging rides or scheduling departures is very feasible.

“I think that’s very very doable (but) it’s a case of again, logistics, sitting down and working a pattern out that would make it equitable.”

Should such a scheme take off it wouldn’t even require an expansion of the fleet. Bezzina says he often has cabs not taking fares. On the day of the interview there were 166 vehicles on the streets with 85 driving fares, 32 were unavailable because drivers were having lunch or taking breaks, and 48 were sitting waiting for trips.

“So there’s enough vehicles out there at any given time.”

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