A St. John's cab company says a shortage of drivers and the crushing cost of insuring their vehicles is keeping new drivers off the road, and adding to wait times for riders.
Jiffy Cabs owner and operator Chris Howlett says the average wait time for a taxi from call to pickup is between five and 10 minutes from Sunday to Thursday, but is higher on Fridays and Saturdays due to demand. Peak nights at the end of the week can bring between 2,500 and 3,000 jobs per night.
"We've heard people, we've listened. We're not turning a blind eye to the chatter out there as to how long it takes," Howlett told Radio-Canada this week.
The cab company is operating with fewer vehicles than pre-pandemic times — from 80 cars in 2019 to around 55 cars today, Howlett said — largely due to a drop in the number of drivers and rising insurance costs.
"Rates had increased 250 to 300 per cent … just given that we're pigeonholed into facility insurance, which is the insurer of last resort," he said.
"The cabs are out there. We're getting the work done, but during peak conditions we do struggle a little bit from not having those additional cabs on the road."
Howlett says insurance prices for the company can range between $8,000 and $12,000 per car, per year. He's also facing other rising costs like fuel and the cost of buying a second-hand vehicle, which he says has doubled over the last year.
"It's like a well-timed mini-disaster after mini-disaster after mini-disaster," he said.
N.L. pays more claims than other Atlantic provinces
Amanda Dean, vice president of the Atlantic region for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, says Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest automotive insurance rates in Atlantic Canada, including among the region's taxi drivers.
"One of the things that really differs between Newfoundland and Labrador and the rest of the Atlantic region, it's something as simple as claims drive premiums," Dean said this week.
"If claims are higher, premiums have to increase in order to ensure that there's enough money in the pool within that jurisdiction to pay those claims."
Dean says auto insurance policy in Newfoundland and Labrador differs from the rest of Atlantic Canada.
For example, Canada's Maritime provinces place a cap on the amount of money that can be received in claims following a minor injury. Newfoundland and Labrador lacks that cap, and doesn't have a definition for a minor injury.
Dean says data from Newfoundland and Labrador's Public Utilities Board shows cab companies operating in 2016 paid around $2.8 million in premiums, but paid out around $5 million in claims.
Hollett says he's left to wonder if the cap could make a difference in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"If the insurance companies weren't paying out all that money and soft tissue [injury claims] because … the insurance industry in this province is the way that it is, maybe we'd have more cars on the road, maybe people would see it as more viable option and we wouldn't even be talking about this."