Taxi fare increase not enough, local operator says 

Local taxi drivers are describing The Motor Carrier Commission’s approval of a conditional hike in fare charges as a slap in the face, claiming that it falls well short of a fair tariff increase.

The Commission has announced B.C. taxi companies can apply for the right to raise distance rate charges by an additional 11 per cent, minus any increases approved since 1992. Flag and waiting rates will remain the same. Taxi companies licensed after Dec. 31, 1992 may be eligible to increase fares 1.57 per cent for every year since being licensed.

Under the Commission’s new ruling, Whistler cabbies would be entitled to a 7 per cent tariff increase at best, because of an earlier 4 per cent hike several years ago.

The authority came up with the 11 per cent figure following a review of its fare structure policies and discussions with mainly Vancouver and B.C. taxi and transport bodies. It says the Consumer Price Index has increased by the same percentage since 1992, hence the move to increase distance rates, since they are most impacted by rising fuel prices. Commission chair Claude Heywood says the decision is fair to both consumers and the taxi industry.

"This supplemental tariff will enable taxicabs to increase distance rates by an amount comparable to the level of general price increases," he said.

However, the owner of Whistler’s three main taxi companies — Sea to Sky Taxi, Blackcomb Taxi and Whistler Taxi Ltd. — says living here cannot be compared with the rest of the province, because everything is charged at inflated resort prices. Owner and general manager of the three firms, Eric Larsen, says fuel costs in Whistler are well in excess of other centres, as are other costs such as accommodation and food.

"This tariff increase does not reflect the reality," he said. "Gas and propane prices have both risen 20 cents a litre in the past 12 months." Larsen says prices have eased slightly but Whistler motorists still pay significantly more.

A quick check of B.C. regular fuel prices does reveal discrepancies across the province. PetroCanada in Vancouver was charging 67.9 cents a litre earlier this week, compared to 72.9 cents per litre in Pemberton and a high of 76.9 cents a litre in Whistler. Chevron in Squamish was considerably lower at 68.9 cents.

Larsen says a third gas station is desperately needed in Whistler to bring competition to the local market and stop co-operative pricing.

Furthermore, he says the harsh Whistler climate makes cost-saving measures, such as converting cars to the cheaper propane fuel, uneconomic.

"It costs more than $1,500 to convert a car but it’s not worth it here," he said. "On average a new taxi lasts only two years in Whistler, compared to four or five years in milder weather climates such as in Vancouver."

Larsen says local taxi drivers will not be putting forward any claims for a 7 per cent increase until they find out what happened to an earlier application to raise local cab fares.

"In July I spent $600 applying to the Commission for an 8 per cent rise for the three companies but have not heard a word back, and now this new tariff is announced," Heywood said. To add to the confusion, applicants under the new scheme don’t have to pay the previous $200 administration fee so I want that money back, he added.

Companies wanting to apply for the increased tariff rate must do so between Jan. 15 and June 30, 2001. The Commission says companies wanting a greater increase or other changes must apply through the regular channels. It says it will continue to seek a longer-term solution to fare structure processes.

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