A new vehicle for hire bylaw in Fort McMurray means taxis can charge up to 30 per cent more and the municipality is opening up to rideshare services like Uber.
Councillors for the Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality approved the new vehicle for hire bylaw Tuesday night, following more than 20 presentations from the taxi and ridesharing industry about what they did — and didn't — like about it.
Many wanted to talk about the move away from a fixed-rate fare system.
The new fare structure means taxi drivers can charge a maximum of $5 for the first 52 metres, $0.15 for each additional 52 metres and $0.60 per minute of wait time. Drivers can also choose to negotiate a flat rate with passengers.
That's a change from the previous set rate of $3.80 for the first 52 metres, $0.10 per each subsequent 52 metres and $0.60 per minute of wait time.
Taxi rates haven't increased since 2014 and drivers say current fees aren't enough to guarantee a stable income, particularly in light of increasing insurance, fuel and repair costs. As a result, a large number of drivers have left the industry since the start of the pandemic.
Under the new bylaw, fees aren't set, which means companies can choose to charge less than the $5 maximum.
Phil Walding, head dispatcher for Sun Taxi, said the new pay structure will cause a "major disturbance" to the industry.
Without a set rate, drivers can fight to have the lowest fares, which Walding feared could affect both the safety and quality of service.
"They're going to have guys fighting with each other for fares, like literally fist-fighting," he said.
He said drivers are going to be put in the position of feeding their children or fixing their cab, and he said family will come first every time.
"Their cabs are going to fall into disrepair," said Walding.
Good first step
Under the new bylaw, taxi drivers can charge patrons $250 to clean up feces, vomit, urine or blood.
Administration said taxi drivers can complain to the bylaw department if patrons don't pay the fine, and a bylaw officer can issue a ticket.
However, the fine would not go to the driver of the cab.
Councillors voted 5 to 2 in favour of the bylaw 5-2, with councillors Lance Bussieres and Ken Ball opposed. Four members — Keith McGrath, Lorette Waquan, Stu Wigle and Kendrick Cardinal — weren't present for the vote.
Coun. Funky Banjoko said the revised bylaw is a step in the right direction but there is still room for improvement.
"I believe it was progress," said Banjoko. "We are not 100 per cent where we want to be but it's a process and we have to get started."
She said a plan to bring in a taxi committee that represents industry's needs will help shape future changes to the vehicle-for-hire rules.
Orandzeb Malik, owner of Sky Cabs, offered strong support for the bylaw.
"I think they gave us the opportunity and I think this is healthy competition," said Malik, who also drives a taxi in addition to operating the company.
He said the previous low fare structure was problematic. He also might take advantage of the new flexibility, saying he's thinking of charging $4.50 for the first 52 metres instead of the $5 maximum.
Meanwhile, the new approval for rideshare services in the municipality was cheered by entrepreneur Abdi Mursal.
Mursal's new YMM Rider rideshare app for Fort McMurray was set to launch Wednesday morning.
Drivers are lined up and ready to roll, Mursal said.
"This is what we were hoping for tonight and council made it happen," he said. "I'm so happy."