Taxi drivers allege RNC inspections 'payback' ahead of threat to suspend St. Patrick's Day service
An alliance of taxi operators in St. John's say they will take a stand against higher insurance rates, even on the busiest day of the year.
On Thursday, the group issued the Newfoundland and Labrador government an ultimatum — meet with us or taxi service will be suspended on St. Patrick's Day.
"Is it better I lose $600 or $700 or lose my livelihood because I have to pay an eight, 10 or $12,000 taxi insurance premium?" says Doug McCarthy, who is part of the Newfoundland and Labrador Taxi Alliance.
Also on Thursday, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary conducted safety inspections on several taxis around the city.
McCarthy is one of dozens that protested the same insurance issues outside Confederation Building on Feb. 23.
Those in the industry say their insurance rates have skyrocketed over the past four years, and they face another 18.6 per cent increase on March 1, and a further 24 per cent later this year
The provincial association of taxi owners is calling on government to freeze insurance rates until a review of the system by the Public Utilities Board is completed.
No cabs for part of Monday morning
McCarthy said the first step is another "mass demonstration" on Monday outside Confederation Building — and people might want to consider another form of transportation.
"If you're looking to get a taxi between the hours of 9 a.m. and 12 p.m., don't bother calling because the phones wont be answered," said McCarthy.
If government does not agree to meet with industry representatives, then there will be another — and much more significant — period where taxis are scarce.
"Should government decide not [to] meet with us, then on Saturday, March 17, all taxi service on the Greater Avalon will be suspended," McCarthy said.
"St. Patrick's Day is by far the busiest day of the year. It's even greater than New Years Eve."
McCarthy was fuming Thursday because of what he called "payback" for the recent protests.
"The RNC and the provincial Department of Transportation are pulling over all of the taxis and giving them safety inspections. For any minor infraction, you are either going to be ticketed or the plate will be pulled off your car, depending on the infraction," he said.
McCarthy said vehicles are already inspected every year prior to licensing.
"In 14 years, I have never once seen a police officer or a Department of Transportation [official] pull over a taxi on the side of the road and do an on-road vehicle inspection," he said.
Not true, said Justice Minister Andrew Parsons.
"That's somewhat news to me," he said outside the House of Assembly on Thursday. "Does anyone think I would ask the RNC to target anybody? Like, that's ridiculous. I would never do that."
"I trust the chief and all his people to do what they have to do to protect safety. I don't get involved in that. Never have, never will."
Parsons said the RNC and RCMP conduct various operations focused on safety, like campaigns targeted at checking school buses for example.
"Payback? No. Sorry, I'm not any part of that."
The RNC also denied the inspections were a form of retaliation against the taxi industry due to recent protests, but a spokesperson admitted the timing could have been better given the ongoing tension between government and the taxi industry.