The British Columbia government’s Consumer Protection B.C. office accepts complaints about taxis, which are forwarded to the Passenger Transportation Branch (PTB) for investigation. The Taxi Bill of Rights states that taxi drivers are supposed to obey all laws and protect any passenger’s health or safety.
But incident reports obtained by theBreaker show that taxi passengers who complained about dangerous driving and sexual harassment late last year and early this year got little, if any, justice.
There were no penalties assessed by the PTB for such complaints handled during the first quarter of 2018 because the office deemed the complaints about dangerous driving and passenger safety beyond its scope and jurisdiction. The documents, released under the freedom of information law, show that the office tended to refer complaints to taxi companies for explanation or to deal in-house discipline.
In one case, a passenger who complained about a dangerous MacLure’s driver on Dec. 17, 2017 was “educated” by PTB about a loophole in the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations. Taxi drivers traveling under 70 kilometres per hour are allowed by law to drive without wearing a seatbelt.
“The seat belt was latched and he was sitting on it to prevent it from beeping,” said the complaint. “The taxi driver repeatedly picked up his cell phone and scrolled through it. It was only when I demanded that he put away his cell phone that he did. Distracted driving in the rain is unacceptable. The driver repeatedly ignored the warning system installed on his vehicle to alert when he was following too closely. The taxi driver did not help me with my bags upon arrival at the airport, probably because I asked him to put his phone away.”
A contrite statement from the driver claimed he had been driving under 70 km-h and was using his phone hands free, but would be “more cautious to provide better customer service.”
The fine for not wearing a seatbelt is normally $167; it is $386 for emailing or texting while driving. ICBC calls seatbelts the “single most effective protective device in your vehicle” and its website says that at just 55 km-h, a person not wearing a seatbelt in a crash has the same experience as falling from a three-storey building.
A passenger complained that a Vancouver Taxi driver was “like a maniac with aggressive speeding” during a Nov. 13 trip from Parq casino. The driver was allegedly crossing lines and driving in the centre of the road. “[The driver] went off on a tangent about Europeans and their treatment of immigrants to Canada.”
The passenger demanded to be dropped-off four kilometres before the destination, but PTB determined there was no violation of its rules and regulations.
A passenger complained about a Jan. 14 afternoon ride in a Yellow Cab on Knight Street and Clark Drive, between 10th and 20th avenues.
“The taxi driver was driving within two metres of cars’ bumpers and erratically weaving in and out of lanes. The taxi driver was honking from time to time at different drivers. The taxi driver cut off a large cement truck, then sharply cut in front of me ,with approximately half a car length of space available. I had to slam on my brakes and swerve to avoid crashing into the taxi’s left rear door. I almost hit the median at 15th Ave. We were all traveling just over 60 km-h.”
Another complaint about so-called driving ability from Jan. 26 was lodged by a passenger of a Yellow Cab at the intersection of Bute and Hastings. “Rather than waiting for the car ahead to turn, the taxi swerved into the oncoming traffic lane and went through the intersection,” said the complaint.
The notes say that Yellow Cab general manager Carolyn Bauer would “review with the driver,” but the allegation was determined not to violate PTB rules and regulations.
A pedestrian crossing a street complained about a Jan. 24 incident, alleging that a pet dog was nearly run over by a Yellow Cab.
“I looked at him and said “what the hell?” He gave me the middle finger.”
The notes say that Bauer “reminded him of road safety and the image of Yellow Cab.”
A passenger of a Delta Sunshine Taxi on Dec. 14 complained about improper route and sexual harassment during a trip from Surrey to the Villa Grand Casino in Burnaby.
“I was unfamiliar with his chosen route and [the taxi driver] began asking me how much I liked to have sex, and began telling me that he liked to have sex four or five times a day,” the complaint said. “I felt unsafe and vulnerable and I am honestly not sure I could take another taxi alone.”
The complaint was substantiated, a refund given and the driver disciplined by the company. The company agreed to refund the fare and suspend the driver for seven days.
Another similar incident happened a month later, on Jan. 14, involving Black Top Cabs, at 4 a.m.
The driver allegedly pulled over without the taxi light on to pick up a woman who had been waiting for a cab. “He started driving and said he picked me up because I was pretty,” read the complaint. “He proceeded to ask if I would like to get food (I believe he expected me to be drunk and easily persuaded) and continued making comments about my appearance. I remained polite, declined and asked to be taken [censored].”
The driver allegedly later said “he would like to come sleep at my apartment, and I said no can I please pay. He said I did not have to pay full price, I tipped so I paid the full amount and quickly got out of the taxi.”
The company told PTB that it had suspended the driver until he was back and available for questioning.
A spectator who attended the National Figure Skating Championships complained about hundreds of spectators being stranded without taxi service at the University of B.C.’s Thunderbird Arena during the Jan. 8-14 meet.
The complainant said taxi company dispatchers told spectators that “all of the cabs in the city were being sent to the stadium.” But, on Jan. 12, only five cabs came within a span of 90 minutes. Many of the spectators were visitors from Ontario and Quebec staying downtown. “Hundreds were left stranded in the pouring rain during this time.”
“Public transportation is a limited option to people with mobility issues and senior citizens who do not know the city and are accustomed to reliable taxi service,” the complaint said. “Definitely a black mark on the city and worth serious consideration for any future events that attract national and international attendance.”
The PTB considered the complaint “unsubstantiated” and took no action.
In one case, a passenger used the Yellow Cabs’ app on Nov. 21 to reserve a drive to Vancouver International Airport the next morning. The driver mistakenly showed up 15 minutes after the reservation was made.
“I tried to explain to him that I reserved the cab for the following morning. He yelled at me saying I’m stupid and should learn to use the technology. I said your company should learn how to create a proper app and train their staff about customer service.”
The person deleted the Yellow Cab app, and called Black Top instead.
“The province should not be protecting this inferior public service,” the complaint said. “It’s like protecting the coal industry. It makes no sense.”
PTB did not investigate, but referred the complaint to Yellow Cabs, and said it may request the outcome of the investigation.
At a July 19 news conference, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said a bill is in the works for the fall sitting of the Legislature to include “consumer safety and enforcement.”
B.C. is the last major jurisdiction in North America where ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft are not permitted. Those services could finally arrive in fall 2019. In the meantime, the B.C. government said the taxi cartel would be in-line for another 500 licences, 300 of which are earmarked for the Lower Mainland.
- Have you had a bad experience in a British Columbia taxi and your complaint isn’t being taken seriously by the government or a certain taxi company? Contact theBreaker.
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