The meter running out on Greater Trail’s only taxi service has pushed Trail council into gear on an issue they have no authority over.
Champion Cabs is preparing to close up its operation in Trail and Castlegar and put 14 of its employees out of work by the end of February should the Passenger Transportation Board not grant a requested 35 per cent rate increase.
Owner John Foglia said rising minimum wage, high gas prices and growing insurance costs has put him in the red to the tune of $22,000 over the last three months.
“There is no question that communities like Trail and Castlegar need a taxi service,” argued Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs. “But we are not in the business of setting rates, they are provincially regulated and he has to justify to the government that these rates are necessary for them to provide the service.”
Instead, what Trail council can do is voice its concerns. The city is sending a letter to the province explaining that this area needs a rural transportation plan, which they will also bring in a form of a resolution to the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.
“We’re subsidizing the BC Transit system quite significantly,” said Bogs. “(We need) a new provincial rural transportation strategy that will encompass either being a part of the transit system or helping to support financially a service of this nature.”
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, with funding and administrative assistance from BC Transit, operates transit in Greater Trail. In 2011, the regional district put $995,000 toward this service, with Trail funding approximately $446,400 of this based on assessment.
Sharman Thomas, Kootenay Boundary Transit System supervisor, said local transit already uses taxi service as a supplement to Handy Dart, a door-to-door scheduled service for those with disabilities that can’t use the conventional service.
“If we can’t provide service during our regular operating hours because our Handy Dart is in another location, we have a small bit of funding that we can use toward a taxi supplement,” he explained. “It would be a loss for our riders as well.”
Thomas is hopeful the company will continue to stay open but understands the obstacles involved in operating such a service.
“There are similar challenges because of the areas that we have to cover and the population compared to a larger centre is obviously a lot less,” he said.
“The cost to deliver the system when you have lesser amount of people traveling across a greater area, is more substantial per person.”
Kootenay Boundary Transit System is currently working with BC Transit on making its schedule more flexible come spring for Greater Trail residents making their way home after work.
An additional 2,400 hours will be added to the local transit system to accommodate a run leaving downtown after 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and a late-night run Fridays after 9 p.m.
But increased hours of bus service will not cover the loss of a taxi service, especially for those looking to get home in the wee hours, according to Trail resident Dustin O’Connor, who relies on transit as his main source of transportation.
“There’s going to be a lot of drunk drivers on the road,” he said, “if the only taxi company in Trail closes down.”
Trail Taxi began in the mid-1960s but when Foglia took over the company in 2000, he changed the name to Champion Cabs and later combined the service with Castlegar Taxi, which he bought six years ago.
He felt the two companies — and an answering service he established in conjunction with the taxi services — would support each other enough to survive as the lone cab company.