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Vancouver taxi drivers rally against 'enslavement'

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Vancouver taxi drivers rally outside Library Square Wednesday for changes in legislation to allow cabbies easier access to obtaining individual licences. Currently, of the city's 588 cab licences, only one belongs to an individual driver. (CARMINE MARINELLI/24 HOURS)

Vancouver taxi drivers rally outside Library Square Wednesday for changes in legislation to allow cabbies easier access to obtaining individual licences. Currently, of the city's 588 cab licences, only one belongs to an individual driver. (CARMINE MARINELLI/24 HOURS)

Vancouver taxi drivers are revolting against what they say is longtime "enslavement" by their companies because their bosses hold all the licences.

More than 100 cabbies rallied outside the Vancouver Public Library downtown Wednesday, many upset at having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in lease, dispatch, insurance, maintenance and gas costs.

"Successful governments in the city and the province have been ignoring the issues. We want these issues to be discussed in the legislature in Victoria to come up with some concrete solutions," said Bhupinder Dhaliwal of the newly formed Pacific Coast Co-op Taxi Association.

According to the Passenger Transportation Board, which approves cabbie applications in B.C., each licence costs $300.

B.C.'s laws allow anyone to apply for those licences, but because of the province's close scrutiny of each application, only one of Vancouver's 588 cab licences belongs to an individual holder.

The rest are split between Yellow Cab, Black Top, MacLure's and Vancouver Taxi - the city's four cab companies.

Drivers claim this is unfair, and that they can't get by without working long stretches of overtime to cover their operational costs.

Speaking on behalf of the companies, Yellow Cab president Kulwant Sahota said each leasing agreement is negotiated individually between cab owners and their drivers, and Vancouver isn't exceptional in its costs of dispatch, insurance and bookkeeping.

"A driver will come up to an owner, and say, 'look, I want to drive your cab, I'm going to pay this much a year or this much a month.' There's no standard costs," he said.

Coun. Geoff Meggs, impressed with the demonstration, agreed the licensing issue has caused problems for "generations."

"The city issues the licences for nominal fees and then these drivers pay $100 to $150 a day for the privilege of having a job," he said.

"When times are good and when the lease fees are pretty low, then people can manage. I think we're seeing now the economic pressures are increasing."