Yellow Cabs Ltd., the newest addition to the Yellowknife cab community plans on opening its doors April 1, but the new business has already hit a snag on the way to its grand opening.
Sibhat Berhane, president of Yellowknife Cabs Limited, said the business began after being fired from a competing cab company for helping colleagues who were trying to start their own business.
“Cab drivers don’t have unemployment or pensions, so the day we can’t drive, we’re done,” said Berhane. “We are not getting any younger and wanted something for ourselves.”
The group of drivers wanted to be able to start a company they could hold shares in to achieve a more stable retirement, but after being fired, they began to work quickly to turn their business into reality.
“With no income flowing, we could not sit for months,” he said.
Not knowing the cab company from a business standpoint, Berhane said the group was learning on the fly.
This learning on the fly led to the companies first hurdle, the installation of soft meters – meters that tracked digitally with GPS and display on a tablet or phone.
The cab drivers knew the city was still using the mechanical metering system, but to avoid incurring extra costs, wrote a letter to the mayor’s office at the beginning of February asking that city administration consider allowing the use of soft meters.
Should the new company have to install mechanical meters, it would cost the company close to $20,000 or about $600 per car.
“We didn’t really know what we were doing, starting a cab business from the ground up,” said Berhane. “We weren’t sure of the kind of process it would require to change the bylaw.”
After not receiving an initial response, Berhane contacted city councillors and was asked to come make their case before city council on March 11.
Berhane was joined by Meda Shanahan, Yellowknife Cab’s administrator, who made a presentation asking for council to either open up the livery licence bylaw for amendment or allow the new cab company special permission to perform a “test run” of a soft meter system for a period of time.
“The technology for cabs has changed a lot over the years, but the bylaw has not,” said Shanahan. “This company is new and would like the opportunity to have the newest technology to help our company be successful.”
Shanahan said there are roughly 30 cab drivers already with the company, waiting for work and hoping for the Arpil 1 launch.
The issue at hand revolves around the wording of the livery licence bylaw – first adopted in 2009 and last amended in 2012 – which requires cabs to have “sealed” meters to ensure they are not tampered with. With mechanical meters, this means a physical seal.
Eric Bussey, director of public safety, said the city has been looking into whether or not the soft meters being encrypted was secure enough to be used by cab drivers in the city.
“Right now the bylaw requires sealed meters and soft meters would not conform,” said Bussey.
“We’ve been looking at it in terms of amending the bylaw. Our concern is the security around being able to seal the device in terms of recording the fares.”
Bussey said in an email that this research began in-house in February.
“Our research included determining how a soft meter functioned and how they were controlled,” he said. “We also tried to determine what municipalities permitted their usage and attempted to engage with municipalities to explore what issues were involved in administering this service or offering it to the general public.”
Administration noted that opening up the livery licence bylaw for updating was already on their radar, with plans to bring it to the governance and priority committee meeting this April.
“It’s been a long time since the bylaw was updated, if council members recall council made a commitment to open up this bylaw in April of this year,” said city senior administration officer Sheila Bassi- Kellett.
She said multiple complaints against the bylaw have been received in the past year and a comprehensive overhaul of the bylaw is an option.
Councillors, understanding of the needs of the business and not wanting to keep them out of work, seemed amenable to moving the livery licence up on their list of priorities, but because of the short notice that was given to council, they may miss that April 1 deadline.
The issue will come before the governance and priorities committee on March 25.
In the meantime, Berhane said they will only wait for a short period of time before taking action and getting their new company off the ground.
“That’s the dilemma we’re at now,” he said. “If we find out that the process will take a few weeks, we will wait. If this is going this going to take a month or longer, we will have to spend the money and get mechanical meters.
“I’m sure down the road they will amend the bylaw to allow it, it is the way cab companies are going in the rest of Canada, we just cannot wait for too long.”