Delicate balancing act as Calgary hikes taxi fares by 15 per cent

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A 15 per cent increase in Calgary taxi fares could add up for low-income households who depend on taxi services, but the price hike is necessary for cab drivers who are also grappling with the surging cost of living, says an anti-poverty advocate.

City council voted unanimously to approve an increase to taxi rates last week, putting Calgary’s rate among the highest in the country as cab drivers are impacted by rising fuel prices, insurance and other operating expenses. For low-income Calgarians who use taxi services, however, the added charge could hurt their tightening budget.

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“The complexity of this is more than just that small rate increase. It is about whether we’re paying people a living wage. Drivers and owners of firms need to be paid, as well, and they have to respond to rising costs that get passed along to everybody,” said Meaghon Reid, the executive director of Vibrant Communities Calgary.

Reid said that data from the Economic Research Institute shows taxi drivers make an average of $41,000 a year.

“We want to make sure that people in the taxi industry are able to make a wage that’s above the poverty line and, hopefully at a living wage,” she said. “With that said, users of taxis are shocked.”

People within the disability community, seniors and those who don’t have access to a credit card are among the groups of individuals who really rely on taxis in that poverty landscape, Reid said.

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“Just adding that extra bit to the rate does absolutely make a difference for people,” she said. “In my entire career working in poverty reduction, I’ve not been as nervous as I am right now in terms of the number of people who are making significant trade-offs on their basic needs just to survive day-to-day.”

The taxi fee increase puts Calgary’s prices above those in comparable Canadian cities, with an initial pickup rate up to $4.50 and every 120 meters costing 23 cents. A 20-kilometre fare with the new prices is now $42.60 — an increase of $5.57 total for that length of the trip.

According to a chart presented by city administration, Calgary’s new rates are higher than Regina’s initial rate of $4.25 and 25 cents per 138 meters, and Mississauga’s initial rate of $4.25 and 25 cents per 141 meters. The 15 per cent increase in Calgary was chosen to cover the increase in operating costs since 2014 when the rates were last adjusted.

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Kurt Enders, the president of Checker Cabs, said the increase was sorely needed for the taxi drivers who haven’t seen an increase in eight years.

“With the cost of fuel continuing to rise, still rising even today, like everything. Unfortunately, the cost of everything is going up, whether it’s property taxes, food for your family, and the drivers deserve to have a living wage to support their families, no different than anyone else,” said Enders.

Taxi fee increases are currently being considered or passed in other Canadian cities, including Halifax, Kingston, Ottawa and Iqaluit. Enders said it’s likely after a wave of increases across the country because of the cost of fuel, insurance and inflation, Calgary’s fees will be in the “middle of the pack.”

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The 15 per cent increase struck a good balance for the drivers and the consumers, Enders said. The average fare in the city is about $15 to $18, which will raise approximately $1.50 to $2 with the new rates.

“We could have justified a 20 per cent increase, but you also have to be mindful of our customers who use us on a regular basis that we’re being fair to them because everyone’s feeling the pinch points. No different than our drivers are,” he said.

“We’re happy council approved it and worked as quickly as they did for the drivers.”

What’s important to combat the rising cost of living, is that the city has the appropriate systems in place to support those in need, Reid explained. As of Wednesday, Canada’s inflation rate had risen to 6.8 per cent.

Reid encouraged people in need to reach out to 211 which can connect them with the right service to help them in the immediate.

sbabych@postmedia.com
Twitter: @BabychStephanie

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