Taxi company says city treats drivers like criminals

Taxi drivers are being “treated like criminals” and it’s forcing one taxi company to hire inadequate employees, according to the president of Bee-Line Taxi.

Ray Lustig told city council that his taxi company, Bee-Line Taxi, has had difficulty hiring drivers because of the process they have to endure in securing a chauffeur’s permit from the city.

“We are forced to hire whoever comes along, because so few are willing to endure the expense and indignity of being treated like suspects in a criminal investigation, in order to drive a cab in the only city on Vancouver Island that enforces such draconian policy,” Lustig told city council at its Tuesday night meeting.

The city charges $42.80 for the chauffeur’s permit and Police Information Check.

If, during the Police Information Check, an applicant’s gender and date of birth match with a pardoned sex offender, then the applicant must pay $25 for fingerprinting.

Lustig, however, said he has had drivers who have to pay for fingerprinting each year when they renew their chauffeur’s permit.

He said in Courtenay, the process is a lot less onerous.

“All you need to drive a cab in the Comox Valley is a class four licence and driver’s abstract,” Lustig said.

“They do their own in-house criminal record checks, and unless you’re going to tell me that Campbell River drivers and owners are what, less trustworthy, more likely to be degenerate or third class citizens who should be forced to be finger-printed and unlike criminals, on an annual basis at their own expense? – unless you are going to allege any of those defamations to be the case, how can you justify denying us the same freedom to go about business in the same manner as our neighbours?”

Carrie Jacobs, the city’s RCMP municipal manager, said the city is following the RCMP detachment’s policy and that the City of Courtenay does not have a bylaw in place dealing with chauffeur’s permits.

Jacobs added that she consulted 20 other municipalities across B.C. and found that most, including Nanaimo, North Cowichan and Port Alberni follow the same practise as Campbell River – charging for a Police Information Check on the initial chauffeur permit application – but, unlike Campbell River, charge for the check again upon renewal of that permit.

Jacobs also clarified that fingerprinting is not required for all drivers.

“Only if you get that match in the system, your name, your birthdate and gender (to a pardoned sex offender)” do you have to be fingerprinted.

“If you are a match, unfortunately, you’re a match for life,” Jacobs said.

But Lustig said drivers are still being scared off by the city’s process.

“Unnecessary and harmful restraints have been hindering the smooth operation of our business and endangering the public by denying them the best possible drivers,” Lustig said.

“It’s been so difficult to hire over the last few years, we’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

And, Lustig said, changes that are now being proposed by city staff to the chauffeur permit requirements will only make things worse.

Those changes involve charging a fee for the required Police Information Check each time a permit is renewed.

She said the rationale behind charging for the Police Information Check is to pay for the staff time (roughly one hour) required to process the 54 applications the police services department receives on average each year.

Currently, drivers must renew their chauffeur permits once a year – prior to Dec. 31.

Jacobs said staff are proposing that council extend that by one year and change the expiration date to two years from the date of issue.

But Lustig said all of those changes won’t do anything to remedy the situation and instead likely make things worse.

“This doesn’t do anything for the public at large,” he said.

Coun. Ron Kerr questioned whether the city is perhaps being “a lot tougher” than other communities further south and Mayor Andy Adams said he wanted to be “better than average.”

Adams added that he didn’t have enough information to make a decision on whether or not council should move ahead with the licensing changes.

“I don’t have that level of comfort to say we’re better or worse than other communities,” Adams said.

Council in the end asked city staff to come back with another report showing how communities of comparable size deal with their chauffeur permits.