They also tend to get swarmed by inebriated patrons clamouring for a ride home, and once inside, are at much greater risk of getting sick inside the cab.
To address the issues, Guido Mazza, director of building services, told councillors that sweeping changes to the city's taxi bylaw should include allowing cabbies working between midnight and 6 a.m. to require fares in advance, as well as a $50 cleaning fee if someone vomits in the cab.
“This would avoid what taxi drivers in the industry describe as the practice of driving and dashing without paying,” Mazza said. “We would limit it for certain times of the day, to allow the taxi driver to get a pre-authorized charge.”
While approving the changes, some councillors were concerned that allowing fares to be charged ahead of time could lead to discrimination.
“Will they be asking everyone for prepayment?” asked Ward 10 Coun. Frances Caldarelli. “Or will they be deciding on the way people look, or whether they're inebriated?
“I'm just afraid that by making it voluntary, that we may, in our bylaw, be party to discriminating against certain people.”
Mazza said it wasn't a factor they considered in suggesting the new policy, but agreed the potential was there.
“It's a valid point,” he said. “Maybe it should be made mandatory at a certain point in the evening.”
In the end, councillors approved the new taxi bylaw, but flagged it for review in a year, in case the changes have the sort of unintended consequences Caldarelli was referring to.
Other changes include eliminating zones in the city, allowing drivers to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere in the city, except the airport.
The old rules date back to 2003, shortly after amalgamation, and were meant to ensure smaller communities had taxi service. They split the city into two zones – the former City of Sudbury in Zone 1, and the rest of the city in Zone 2. Zone 1 drivers could only pick up passengers in the old city, but could drop them off anywhere. They could pick up passengers inside Zone 2 only if they were taking them to an address in Zone 1.
Drivers in Zone 2 could only pick up passengers outside of Sudbury, but could take them anywhere. The impetus for a new taxi bylaw was prompted by the decision last year to award one company the contract to serve the airport, which had a dramatic effect on cab companies across Greater Sudbury.
Up to that point, holders of Zone 2A licences were allowed to serve the airport. So last summer, the city agreed to convert Zone 2A licences to Zone 1, to give taxis spurned by the airport a source of income while a new bylaw was prepared. That decision concerned companies already operating in Zone 1, who viewed the Zone 2A drivers as unwelcome competition.
The new bylaw eliminates zones, while capping the number of taxi licences in Greater Sudbury at 131, to try and ensure cab companies can make a profit. A separate class of licenses would be created for the Sudbury Airport only, in case future expansion there creates the need for more cabs.
The bylaw also changes the way fare increases are calculated, creating a new price index that includes costs other than increasing gas prices. While fares in the city are in the “upper middle” compared to similar municipalities, Sudbury is behind in how it determines increases, the report said.
“This index would take into account insurance rates, gas prices, and other costs relating to operating a taxi,” the report said. “It is recommended that the bylaw be updated to have the more sophisticated Taxi Cost Index be used on an annual basis, and therefore it would be used in the next review in September of this year.”
The number of cabs be limited to a formula of about one taxi for every 1,200 citizens.
Drivers be required to get a Vulnerable Sector Check, rather than the Criminal Record Check.
The age limit for all taxis be set at 10 years, the current limit for Zone 2 drivers.
All cab company owners carry $2 million in liability insurance, as is already the case for Zone 1 drivers.
Taxi licence renewals be scheduled on drivers' birthdays, to avoid a flood of renewals all at once