No cash, no service – that’s the new rule being put in effect by Iqaluit’s taxi companies come July 15.
That’s due to the high number of customers not paying for their taxi rides. Caribou Tuktu Cabs drivers, along with the handful of small independent companies, will now charge the $7 fare in advance.
“It’s already in the bylaw,” said Philippe Le Lann, who owns Prime One Taxi and is one of the four smaller companies.
The move is supported by the City of Iqaluit’s Bylaw 590, the Taxi Bylaw, which states, “The taxi driver may request the passenger to pay the fare in advance.”
“It’s gotten out of control,” said Caribou Cab’s owner Danny Savard.
In Whitehorse, he says, where the rides are metered, drivers ask for a $30 deposit in advance.
Long-time driver Nasser Haymour says new drivers can lose up to $70 a day.
“For the veterans, they start to know who the offenders are, so they lose on average maybe $30 a day,” said Haymour.
Savard says race often figures into the equation, as well.
“The black drivers get it 20 times worse than the ones that are white,” he said.
“A customer took a driver for three rides. Three stops. She got out and she said, ‘I asked for a white driver. I’m not paying you.'”
Savard and Haymour say that’s not unusual. These taxi drivers are also accused of being in Iqaluit to steal money, steal women, deal drugs and bootleg alcohol.
While there may occasionally be a bad apple, Savard says Caribou Cabs is attempting to clean the business up on their end.
“They get caught. A few left town. They’re never coming back,” said Haymour.
As for the ride-and-dash situation, it’s worse at night, and during the day youth are more often the culprits.
“During the day the biggest suspects are young kids. Mum’s going to pay at home. They get out a couple of doors down, go out the back, and disappear,” said Haymour.
The new dispatch system recently installed, which includes a tablet in every Caribou Cab car, also has a video and sound recording system. That move, said Savard, is helping resolve disagreements between customers and drivers.
And it will help with oversight to ensure drivers are paid.
“We can make arrangements if people call dispatch. We’re going to allow this at the beginning, see if it works. If they call dispatch and make arrangements, someone will pay at the other end, and if it works we’ll continue to give the service to that address,” said Savard.
“If we don’t get paid at that address, we have a digital system, we’ll lock it (the address) until we get paid. We are not going to send service until you pay X amount in fare.”
Haymour understands most parents don’t want to give the kids the money.
“As long as the parent calls. Because, a lot of times, the kids have been told they can rip off taxi drivers. They can get away with it because they’re kids,” he said.
Savard realizes the new rule may be met with push back at the beginning.
“That’s why I waited for the tablets that are recording. We’ll have footage that protects the driver. People are looking for ways not to pay. Any reason whatsoever. You smell bad, you drive too fast, you drive to slow, you skipped a stop sign,” he said.
“Altercations with the driver to push them (the drivers), then the fury on Facebook. I’ve been checking the footage, and it’s not all what they (the customers) say.”
Drivers can face intimidation, threats and violence.
For immigrant taxi drivers, this can prove especially difficult.
“It depends on the country they come from. Some countries, if you say the wrong word, you’re condemned. There are no human rights there,” said Haymour.
“So if someone threatens them, they think it’s the end of the world, like back home.”
Savard says the number of complaints against drivers have lessened since the tablets were installed.
Valid complaints, supported by video footage, amounts to an estimated 50 per cent.
But now that drivers are aware that they are also being recorded, he expects that number to drop, as well.
“We’re tightening up the screws all the way around in the industry,” said Savard.