Editorial note: The following is a submitted open letter from a local taxi company employee regarding the recent and ongoing operational changes being implemented by the Kingston Area Taxi Commission. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
I’ve sent this letter to the Kingston Area Taxi Commission (KATC).
The taxi industry needs the help of the general public to prevent this insane increase [to cab fares]. KATC recently changed the bylaws and, currently, both taxi companies (Amey’s Greenwood Taxi and Modern Taxi) have rebelled and have not raised their rates. If they do not do so by May 14, 2022, they can be fined $25,000 to $50,000, and have all their cars pulled off the road.
We need everyone in the taxi industry to speak up.
We need the public to speak up.
I recommend watching the two most recent KATC meetings, available on video at the KATC Facebook page and their website. Please call your city councillor and the KATC, and let them know this increase is absolutely unacceptable.
Other bylaws have also been changed against the recommendation of the taxi industry. The new dress code is pretentious and outdated. The cancellation fees cannot be implemented in a just, fair, or safe way.
Please share this letter, and please help us prevent this shameful increase.
To the KATC: I have read through all of the letters and e-mails posted by the Kingston Area Taxi Commission that were sent to the KATC by the taxi industry in regards to a request for a fare increase. An accusation was made in the commission meeting on Wednesday, Apr. 20, 2022, by Commission Chair Joseph Dowser and Commissioner Dianne Aziz. They claimed to have, in their possession, letters from Mark Greenwood (my boss, and the owner of Amey’s-Greenwood Taxi), and others from the taxi industry, as “proof” of a request for a 40 per cent increase in fares. Oddly, not a single letter suggests a request for a 40 per cent increase.
The tariff schedule proposal sent to the KATC by Mark Greenwood recommended the current rate of .25 cents per 135 metres be changed to .30 cents per 135 meters. KATC, if math isn’t your strong suit, let me help you: This is a 20 per cent increase. There was one mention of .35 cents, in an email regarding raising rates for van requests to $4, and waiting time on vans from .25 cents per 25 seconds to .35 cents per 25 seconds. The reason for this request is due to taxi vans frequently being used for the purpose of moving. Moving day for college and university students ties up the vans and their drivers for long periods of time while [customers] load and unload.
A two-tiered fare system is unfair and, in most cases, will be not only be difficult to implement, but is going to cause unnecessary inconvenience and anger from customers. Selling $10 per month passes to receive a lesser rate for your taxi ride will be time-consuming for drivers, as the expectation of the KATC is that drivers record customers full names, home addresses, and e-mail addresses. KATC, I sure hope you’ve checked privacy laws on that, because I will be checking. Most customers aren’t going to willingly offer up that private information (nor should they.) Many customers will either forget their cards or forget to show them at the beginning of the ride. If they’ve forgotten and their ride is charged at full price, I assure you, they’ll be demanding a refund of their 20 per cent discount. It will cause arguments, and cause a customer service nightmare for dispatchers and call help when angry customers are calling the taxi stand to complain that they didn’t receive their discount.
And where, you might ask, do customers obtain these passes? No doubt from the KATC offices. Customers will have to take the time and money to travel to the commission office to buy their discount passes, privilege cards, etc. Do you know how many people forget their purses, bank cards, wallets, cell phones, umbrellas, cargo, etc. inside a taxi? And now they’re expected to remember to bring and show their discount passes as soon as they get into the taxi. When I’m in a rush on my way to an appointment or work, remembering to show my card is not my top priority. I can barely remember to show my points card at stores and often forget!
I know I’m not the only one in this situation. Do you know how many people rip off cab drivers on a daily basis? I can only imagine how bad it will get when the fares are 40 per cent more expensive.
And the cancellation fee of $3 is a joke. Not only is it unenforceable – except through app orders with a credit card on file – but is the driver supposed to knock on the door and demand his $3? I’m sure the Kingston Police are going to love attending a bunch of calls for drivers that didn’t receive their $3. Apparently, Kingston Police have nothing better to do with their time, according to the KATC, as they suggested when a customer refuses to pay it, to call the police. I’m sure app customers will be thrilled to know they’ll have to pay cancellation fees, but most other customers won’t have to pay it. Most situations where a cancellation happens once the driver has arrived are at public places like grocery stores, malls, or in apartment buildings where many people reside. As a call taker, I don’t have time to call people to demand they pay the cancellation fee to the driver. Sending the driver looking to collect their $3 fee is time-consuming and, in some cases, dangerous.
Do you realize that the largest portion of the patrons of taxi companies are people who are on fixed incomes or lower incomes? The people who most need taxis for their essential trips to the grocery store, medical appointments, work, etc., and KATC wants to add a charge of $10/month to buy a pass for discounted fares, plus the cost of travel to and from the KATC office to purchase their card. Great plan (not so much): charge the people who can least afford these costs, plus [add in] paying the return trip fare to the KATC. It’s very gracious of the KATC to offer free senior privilege cards. And how do you suppose those seniors obtain their card? Oh, let’s have them pay a fare to take a taxi to the KATC office to pick it up?? And if you’re sick and/or disabled, or a single parent of small children, I’m sure a trip to KATC office is at the top of your ‘to do’ list.
I have worked as a call taker at Amey’s taxi for the past five years, and was a call taker at Modern City for a year previous to that. I speak to 2,500 or more customers per week. Not one – not one customer – supports a 40 per cent increase, nor the two-tiered system of passes and privilege cards. I know a lot of drivers and taxi owners, and none of them support a 40 per cent increase nor a two-tiered system. I’ve read one comment on the KATC Facebook page and comments made on the media coverage from one driver at Modern City [in support of] a 40 per cent increase. One driver is not a majority. Most people who have worked in the taxi industry for any length of time know that a 40 per cent hike all at once is suicide for the industry.
I am a tax paying citizen. I don’t drive. Nor does my husband. He’s an immune suppressed transplant patient who cannot take city buses due to the risk of COVID-19. I can’t risk taking a bus even if COVID wasn’t an issue. I am unable, due to health issues, to lug my groceries on a bus. I can barely carry a purse and a lunch bag. If the bus seats are full, I do not have the ability to stand while the bus is in motion… I’ll fall over.
In what other line of business does a group of private citizen volunteers, who were not voted in, get to dictate a decision on the price a private business must charge for their services? KATC is forcing an unpopular, unfair, unwarranted increase that neither the taxi industry nor the public wants. A decision that will affect jobs. A decision that will make it even more difficult for low-income people to make ends meet. A decision that will hurt the taxi industry and the patrons of the taxi industry.
I had to laugh out loud when one of the commissioners [during] the April 20, 2022, meeting made the comment that they are the government. HA! As far as I know… I still live in Canada, a place where we have this thing called democracy. Our government is voted in. It’s high time to have this commission disbanded. The decision of who sits on the commission should be a decision made by the citizens of the municipality and by the drivers, owners, and employees of the taxi industry. When elected officials make these types of decisions, they are held accountable for their actions by not receiving votes in the next election, and they are replaced. Who is the KATC accountable to? Certainly not taxi patrons. Certainly not the taxi industry.
I am shocked at the irresponsibility, lack of decorum and professionalism, and the utter ignorance and lack of knowledge of people who are supposed to be in charge of making taxi bylaws & enforcing them.
And another thing: this new dress code is beyond ridiculous. No jeans? No shorts? Must wear collared shirts or blouses? Must wear clothing and shoes that don’t show wear or tear? How pretentious and outdated is that idea? I don’t care what my taxi driver is wearing. As long as they’re showered, their clothes are clean, and they’re not naked, I don’t care what my driver is wearing… it’s not like I’m planning to bring them as my date to a wedding! I can understand rules in regards to unsafe footwear (such as flip-flops) while driving the taxi, but short of that, who cares what they’re wearing? I have never taken a complaint from a customer about what the taxi driver was or wasn’t wearing. I’ve had complaints about body odour, or too much cologne for those with allergies… But I’ve never had anyone comment on the driver’s attire.
Why do Loyalist customers get an automatic 20 per cent discount on fares without a privilege card? What about… North Frontenac, Leeds & Grenville, Ernestown, etc.? There are many places just outside of Kingston that are not flat rate territories. Is it because one of the Commissioners is a Loyalist Township councillor? Is he concerned about pissing off the voters in his territory, so he gave them a break on fares automatically? I would hope Mike Budarick recused himself from that vote.
Do you not realize Uber and Lyft are just as much a taxi as Amey’s or Modern? They are cars for hire with metered fares. Yet they pay nothing to the City of Kingston, and many of the drivers of these “ride shares” (which is another name for a taxi) aren’t from Kingston. The money they earn isn’t going back into the City of Kingston. Taxi companies pay fees, licensing, property taxes on their taxi stands, they buy from local stores and businesses, raise money for local charities. I assure you that doesn’t happen with ride sharing. And you’ve just made taxis more expensive than ride shares? Taxi companies contribute to the local economy and community instead of taking away from it. Do Uber or Lyft help the police when they’re looking for missing people? Do they help the local food bank? Or the toy drive at Xmas? Or the children’s snowsuit drive? Or help police find a suspect of a crime that’s on the loose?
My hope, if this hike is not addressed, is that every single taxi in this city goes on strike. Maybe then this commission will wake up and smell the coffee, and realize the harm this extreme increase will cause. I despise the thought of what a taxi strike would do to the customers who rely on taxis, to get to dialysis, radiation, chemo, blood tests, doctor’s appointments, work, school, grocery shopping, etc. Is that what it will take for KATC to understand how essential taxis are to a city, and that, by pricing them so high, those who need the service the most, are left behind?
I’ve never been so disappointed and angry at a decision made by this Commission as I have this huge rate hike. I will be talking to my city councillor again this week. The people in the taxi industry deserve to be heard, the patrons of taxis deserve to be heard, and the KATC is not listening.
Katherine A. Howe
Call taker/ trainer