'Extremely disappointed': No movement on taxi safety as province pushes issue to city

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Why a cab company wants in on St. John's Neighbourhood Watch

Why a cab company wants in on St. John's Neighbourhood Watch

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has punted the issue of taxi driver regulations back to the City of St. John's — again.

"I'm extremely disappointed that the province and the minister has responded in a very hands off, not-our-responsibility, kind of fashion," Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary told CBC News Thursday.

Mayor Dennis O'Keefe wrote a letter to ServiceNL on behalf of council on Feb. 16 asking that the province amend the Class 4 licence for taxi drivers to include vulnerable sector checks and criminal background checks.

"The city has no authority to pull over a taxi to see if the driver is licenced, has no ability to determine who is actually driving a taxi at any point in time, and cannot issue tickets for violations of its Taxi By-Law," O'Keefe wrote.

O'Keefe sent the letter after a CBC News investigation found significant gaps in taxi driver oversight in St. John's and a number of on-the-job sexual assault allegations against drivers.

Last Friday, ServiceNL Minister Perry Trimper responded, saying most jurisdictions in Canada leave taxi regulation to the municipal level.

Instead of committing to a new class of licence, Trimper recommended the city perform random visits to taxi companies to ensure they're in compliance, develop a taxi cab training program that includes sexual assault awareness or modify the city's own taxi licence process to make regulations more stringent.

'We do not have the legislative capability'

Under the City of St. John's Act, the city has the power to "inquire into and decide upon the fitness" of people applying to be taxi drivers.

But O'Leary said the city doesn't have the legislative power to create stricter regulations and enforce them. 

"The City of St. John's, even though it has had its hand in the taxi cab licencing business, we do not have the legislative capability to deal with vulnerability checks or criminal record checks. We do not have the capability and we do not have a municipal police force," O'Leary said.

Asked if the city could request more legislative power by amending the City of St. John's Act, O'Leary said it's a long and complicated process.

Council and city staff will now meet to discuss what next steps they can take, she said.