Taxi drivers

As Edmonton taxi drivers feel strapped for cash, industry seeks to raise fares for first time since 2007

Parminderjit Singh once considered his taxi plate a ticket to retirement.

Singh said he bought his plate – the license required to operate a taxi in Edmonton – for $190,000 in 2012.

He tries to sell it for $30,000 but says he’ll be lucky to get that price today.

“Most taxi drivers are very frustrated,” he said. “The price is nothing and there is no income.

“It’s very difficult to make money in the taxi industry. It’s not easy right now.”

Singh has seen the value of licenses depreciate over the past decade. He doesn’t expect any city driver to ever see a return on investment in city-issued permits.

The city sets the price of a license at $423 but does not issue new ones and the number of available licenses is capped.

Because of this, the licensing market saw its values ​​soar to over $200,000 in 2015.

Advertisements currently running on social media display boards are offered for as little as $25,000.

Singh fears the industry is dying out.

“I don’t think there’s a future for the taxi industry,” said Singh, who drives for Yellow Cab.

“A lot of people try to quit because there’s no future.”

Taxi drivers and operators say business has been down since ride-sharing services came to the city. (Wallis Snowdon/CBC)

Drivers who are now selling their plates for a fraction of what they paid say the cost of doing business – and the competition on the streets – has become increasingly unsustainable.

Taxi drivers are struggling to make a profit due to a range of factors, from the proliferation of Uber and inflation to soaring gas prices and the lingering effects of the pandemic.

Taxi fares in Edmonton have not increased since 2007.

Taxi companies are now asking the city for a fare increase to bring rates in line with higher operating costs and to encourage drivers who parked their taxis during the pandemic to get back on the road.

The city says it is collecting data from local operators and that a comprehensive rate review is underway, the first in 15 years.

Under the city’s rental vehicle bylaw, plate holders who leave the company are allowed to sell their plates instead of returning them to the city.

The cap on the number of taxi plates that can be issued is 1,235 regular taxi licenses, plus another 95 for accessible taxis.

The number of active permits has declined in recent years, and the city says demand for new plates has waned as ride-sharing services have entered the market.

I can’t make enough money. Every expense increases.– Jahirul Alam

Yellow taxi driver Jahirul Alam, 49, hopes to sell his plate for $32,000. He bought it for $200,000 seven years ago.

“Now it’s worth nothing,” he said. “I thought I had invested – and when it came to retirement – I could get something but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”

Alam pays his company about $2,000 each month for insurance and shipping. It also pays an annual municipal license fee of approximately $400, plus maintenance fees and bi-annual mechanical inspections.

COVID-19 has seen customer demand plummet and rising gas prices cut into profits, he said.

After expenses, he said, he typically brings home $350 after a 60-hour workweek.

Since Uber drivers are on the streets, there’s too much competition for fares, he said.

Following a series of protests by taxi drivers, Edmonton City Council voted to legalize the ride-sharing business in 2016, making it the first Canadian municipality to do so.

“Nowadays there’s not a lot of business. I drive the day shift, I drive the night shift and I can’t find any passengers,” Alam said. “I can’t make enough money. Every expense increases.”

Regulation of ride-sharing services in Edmonton has been hotly contested by the taxi industry, with drivers protesting outside City Hall. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Greater Edmonton Taxi Service Inc. operates Yellow Cab, Barrel Taxi, Checker Cab, Capital Taxi, 24-7 Taxi Line, Sherwood Park Yellow Cab, Leduc Yellow Cab, Prestige Limousine fleet and Skyshuttle airport service.

Company chairman Phil Strong said the increased fares would help drivers maintain a steady income and help businesses retain them.

Strong said the changes would also help the industry compete with Uber and other ride-sharing companies that can change their prices at will.

Pricing pressures

Taxi company operators formally asked the city for a fare increase in March.

Strong declined to say how much they were looking for, but pointed to a recent raise given to Calgary. Calgary’s maximum metered fare has now increased by 15%, the first regulated taxi fare increase in eight years.

Strong said carriers are asking for a slightly higher percentage increase than in Calgary, but rates in Edmonton would still be cheaper.

As part of the application, the operators are also asking the city to institute annual price reviews.

Metered fares in Edmonton start at $3.60, plus 20 cents for every additional 135 meters traveled. Waiting time is charged 20 cents per 24 seconds, which works out to about $30 per hour.

During the worst months of the pandemic, when business virtually ground to a halt, many drivers stopped working, Strong said.

The workforce at its operation has fallen to around 15% of pre-pandemic levels. Today, only around 70% of its regular drivers are on the road.

Strong said drivers are slowly getting back on the road and he’s optimistic the industry can bounce back, especially if fares go up.

“That should be a no-brainer with everything going up; gas, maintenance repairs,” Strong said. “Don’t hesitate to grant us a price increase.”