Coun. George Chahal says his office is hearing from concerned Calgary taxi drivers who say an extra $100 in weekly fees is too much to bear during the pandemic.
One of the city's brokers, Associated Cab Limited, announced it would be raising its stand rent on July 20. The stand rent is in addition to other fees its drivers pay to help fund dispatch and other operations. The fees will now total $363 weekly.
The broker told CBC News that business is down, so to continue offering service and keep the lights on, it needs to raise fees.
"At this time in our city, after COVID and a tremendous hailstorm, it's really unfortunate that a broker would increase fees on the backs of drivers who really have no work," Chahal said.
The Ward 5 councillor has been speaking out for the city's northeast residents after a hailstorm blew through in June, leaving $1.2 billion in damages in its wake.
Chahal said he's heard many taxi drivers with vehicles in the community are facing cars so damaged they are being written off. And with private property repairs and insurance claims, he said they are being stretched thin as it is.
"I think this broker needs to rethink what they've done," Chahal said, adding that the livery industry as a whole needs to ensure its workers can earn a living.
When asked what the city can do to help, Chahal said council has already directed that there be a Livery Transportation Bylaw review. There is a report expected at the standing policy committee meeting on Community and Protective Services coming up, and the councillor said he will raise the issue during that discussion.
"I think it's important to make sure that other brokerages aren't doing this," Chahal said. "We need to have a conversation with them to protect our drivers — the heart and soul of this industry. They are the ones who have to work tremendously hard to get Calgarians to point A to B safely."
CBC News spoke to a taxi driver and agreed not to name them, due to fear of repercussions at work. The driver said this is not the time to raise fees because the demand is down, traffic from flights is down and he's not able to cover the extra expense and still take home enough money to live on.
"I don't see any justification of it because the economy is the same," the driver said.
Broker says company is struggling, too
Jeff Garland, general manager of Associated Cab Ltd., said it's not just drivers suffering. The broker had to scale back operations at the beginning of the pandemic. To reflect demand, Garland said, it also decreased fees for drivers in March.
He also noted that Coun. Chahal did not reach out to speak to Associated about his concerns.
"What do we do? We need to generate revenue to pay bills. Do we just shut everything down? You know it's a catch-22 here."
He said the hailstorm damaged approximately 30 vehicles of the company's 600-vehicle fleet. Right now, 100 vehicles are operating.
Throughout the pandemic, Garland said, the broker has incurred costs to keep drivers safe. These measures include installing Plexiglas dividers in vehicles and providing drivers with ways to sanitize on the go.
"There's only so long we can survive, and you know bankruptcy is not an option," he said.