Sean Willett/the Gauntlet

Editorial: Hitchhiking versus charge-hiking

Publication YearIssue Date 

Public transportation in Calgary sucks, but it could get much worse with a late night surcharge on taxis in the city.

Alderman John Mar, representative for Ward 8, recently posted a video pitching the idea of charging late night passengers up to five additional dollars to encourage more cabbies to be on the road at high-demand times. Most people like to go out and have a few drinks on the weekend and need to rely on either designated drivers, public transit or taxi services to get them home safe and sound. 

Saint-like designated drivers cannot always be counted on to ferry their drunken friends around. Sober allies grow bored of repeated late night shenanigans and eventually retreat to cheaper activities like catching up on Tivo in the comfort of their own homes.

Calgary’s public transportation, on the other hand, is a joke. Given the sheer geography of the city, it is virtually impossible to ride the bus from one end to the other without shrivelling into old age. Relying on public transportation seriously cuts playtime short. The last train leaves downtown at around 
12:30 a.m. on weekends, an hour and a half before most bars close. In other major Canadian cities there are at least one or two bus lines running around the clock for late night revellers. 

Taxis, then, are the last bastion to provide us with a means to the safety of our own homes after a hard night of drinking on the town, besides hitchhiking or walking. Why, then, would the city want to make it more difficult and expensive for us to access adequate transportation? Mar believes this surcharge will entice cabbies to work at peak times when there is typically a lower volume of drivers in relation to customers. On the surface this makes sense, especially when considering that as of September 1, the new Alberta impaired driving laws impose stricter penalties for those with a blood-alcohol level over 0.05. More people will be hesitant about drinking and driving, hence the predicted increase in demand for taxis.

We have to give the city some credit for attempting to correct some of its shortcomings. The City of Calgary invested $1.4 
billion into the creation of the West LRT line to be completed at the end of this year for the growing demographic. But councillors like Mar seem to be distorting the real issue with his uninformed proposal. 

The problem with taxi shortages stems from city council’s restrictive regulations on issuing licences. In 1986, the city capped licences at 1,311 because there wasn’t enough demand for cabbies to make a living. In 2006, the city issued another 100 licences, bringing the total to 1,411 cabs in Calgary. Since 1986, the population has nearly doubled from 650,000 to 1.1 million. Surely the city must recognize that the taxi service industry has room to grow with an exponential growth in its customer base. 

Not only is there demand from customers for taxis, but there are more than enough people willing to do the driving. When the city announced they were issuing 55 more licences this past August, 700 potential drivers clambered at the opportunity. The message is loud and clear. The city needs to issue more licences for cabbies and drop the surcharge idea. Mar would have figured that out long ago had he ever tried calling any taxi service on a weekend evening only to be met with an irritating busy signal for hours straight. 

In a city where public transit is close to $100 per month for sub-standard service, and where city council members think it’s a good idea to further exploit residents by placing a surcharge on late night taxis, it’s no wonder people drive drunk. 

If the city wants to prevent the disaster at the end of this tunnel, they had better stop treating its citizens as cash-cows and start heeding our demands.