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Victoria cabbies drive fee revolt

Rakesh Kohli says taxi standing fees at many tourist facilities, are rising every year and biting into profit margins. - Roszan Holmen/News staff
Rakesh Kohli says taxi standing fees at many tourist facilities, are rising every year and biting into profit margins.
— image credit: Roszan Holmen/News staff

Fees charged for the right to pick-up passengers are taking too big a chunk out of taxi fares, drivers argue.

The $200 annual fee to wait at Ogden Point terminal sparked a boycott at the start of the cruise ship season  Saturday.

But the problem extends beyong the dock, said Rakesh Kohli, a taxi driver in Victoria since 1988.

Kohli represents BlueBird Cabs on the recently formed Greater Victoria Taxi Association, representing the region’s largest taxi companies.

He, along with other members of the association joined forces last week by refusing to pay the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority’s fee.

“We had to start somewhere,” explains Kohli. “(But) it’s not only Ogden Point. Everybody wants the money from the cab drivers.”

Taxis companies must pay a fee to access B.C. Ferry terminals.

They also bid for exclusive pick-up rights at major hotels, the airport, Helijet and the bus depot.

Blue Cabs pays standing fees at the bus depot, worth approximately $50,000 to $60,000 per year. Yellow Cab won the airport bid, which Kolhi estimates to be worth approximately  $500,000 per year.

“I want to get together all the cab companies and just do something about it, otherwise, whatever we make we will have to pay them,” Kohli said.

Fees, including dispatch and standing fees, often add up to more than 50 per cent of a drivers revenues, meaning some only earn minimum wage, he said.

Kuldeep Singh is the president of the Greater Victoria Taxi Association.

“Let us solve the Ogden Point first,” said Singh, declining comment on standing fees elsewhere before talking to his members.

“We want some give and take on both sides,” he said. “The industry keeps going down … The cruise ships are coming in, but all the business is taken away by the tour buses.”

The weak U.S. dollar isn’t helping, Singh added, estimating taxi business is down 18 per cent in Victoria.

Singh is meeting with the harbour authority on Wednesday (April 27).

Sonterra Ross, acting CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, said she was surprised to learn of the taxi drivers’ concerns through the media.

She said the $200 annual fee works out to less than a dollar per cruise ship arrival.

“It’s a significant opportunity for potential fares,” she said.

To date the GVHA has not considered offering an exclusive contract to a single taxi company, Ross said, adding “we may in the future.”

Mohan King represents many of the taxis not abiding by the Ogden Point boycott.

As president of the B.C. Taxi Association, he called the action unacceptable.

Tourism is very important to the industry and the community, he said. “Anything which can put a black mark on it, we don’t support.”

The association has membership from across the province, including 11 small independent companies in Greater Victoria.

“It’s not big money what they (the harbour authority) are asking,” King said.

 

rholmen@vicnews.com

 

 

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