The Town of Hay River has introduced amendments to the rules that set out how the town's taxis should operate.
The move follows concern about the reported difficulty of getting a cab in Hay River in recent years. Some residents have reported long wait times or trouble getting a response from dispatchers.
Cab companies, meanwhile, said they were struggling to meet the requirements set out in the existing bylaw.
At the moment, companies are required to have at least two taxis and a dispatcher available at all times, a minimum standard they argued was not always achievable.
The proposed changes – the bylaw's first update since 2009 – are the result of a meeting between town staff and the companies in question.
The most significant of the suggested changes affects the operating hours of cabs. The new minimum service requirement consists of:
The town’s senior administrative officer, Glenn Smith, believes taxi operators can meet the new guidelines.
“It gives the operators a better chance to be sustainable in their operations,” Smith told Cabin Radio.
“It’s a really tough balancing act between the demand of the public and the supply, as there are peak periods where supply or demand is higher, and periods where there really isn’t any demand at all.
“The proposed schedule attempts to balance that so we can have sustainable businesses and they can continue to operate.”
The bylaw has passed its first and second reading at council. The town is now seeking public feedback on the proposed changes before moving forward with the bylaw's third and final reading.
Taxi operators have previously said Hay River's elongated geography and the long drive to the neighbouring Kàtł’odeeche First Nation are challenges, as is the struggle to recruit employees.
COVID-19 has played a role, too. Demand has dropped and operators have had to adapt to restrictions on cab capacity.
Operators have also expressed concern about harassment of drivers and unsafe houses.
Residents have had safety concerns of their own, such as the danger of trying to get home or get around without a cab available in cold winter temperatures.
At a town council meeting on Monday, Councillor Brian Willows queried the proposed changes. Cutting hours of service in the middle of a pandemic could cause issues in the future, he said.
“We’re basically agreeing to lower the amount of customer service and hours and availability of taxis,” he said.
“Those two things just don’t line up to me, and I’m wondering if it’s prudent to be changing the bylaw when we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.”
Smith, though, said cab companies had described the current situation as unsustainable.
“We’re hearing there are times where they might work an entire Sunday and make $10 over 24 hours,” Smith said.
Councillor Keith Dohey worried that a lack of cabs around the clock might place more pressure on the ambulance service.
Smith said the outlined changes are only minimum requirements, so operators may decide to have more cabs available.
Dohey added that forcing a company to operate for 24 hours a day and lose money is not a realistic approach, and could leave the town worse off if operators decide to disband.
Smith said that if the town keeps its current rules, there is a chance companies may decide to leave.
“We think that, in order to enforce a bylaw that is 24-7 with two cabs... push comes to shove and we’re probably going to lose our operators,” he said.
Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio