The mayor of Coquitlam has shared the story of a resident in his city who he says was “held hostage” during a recent taxi ride.
In a Facebook post, Richard Stewart says he’s known the resident, who he identifies as Gayle, for decades.
He says he became aware of her story while he was in Quebec, riding in an Uber vehicle on his way to a conference, and had a few minutes to check emails on his phone.
One email in particular, he said, stood out from the rest: it was Gayle’s. The email told of a recent experience she had with Coquitlam’s Bel-Air Taxi company.
According to Stewart, Gayle works in the Coquitlam school system, and “although it’s a very short trip to work, for health reasons she had been using a taxi – Bel-Air Taxi, whose owners hold a monopoly for cab service in the Tri-Cities.”
He notes that Gayle has had “several experiences in the past with cab drivers not turning on the meter at the beginning of the trip and then demanding more money at the end.”
But this particular trip, he said, “was a $5.50 cab ride, for which Gayle typically paid $7 including tip; she usually had the money in her hand when she climbed into the cab.”
In this instance, Stewart says, Gayle “hadn’t noticed that the driver hadn’t activated the meter at the beginning of the trip, and as she approached her place of work he told her.”
But when Gayle “balked at paying more,” the driver allegedly “yelled and changed direction and started driving her away from the school. She asked him twice to turn around and take her to her destination, and he became angrier.”
After some more back-and-forth, between Gayle and the driver, including a phone call to to the manger’s office of Bel-Air Taxi, Gayle was eventually driven to her destination.
At this point, writes Stewart, Gayle was “quite frightened, essentially being held against her will in the front seat of the cab by a very angry driver, her $7 fare still in her hand.”
When they finally arrived at her destination, “the driver ripped the money out of the frightened woman’s hand, hurting her in the process,” he adds.
The mayor says that Gayle has made it clear that “she would never have tried to pay less than the standard fare plus tip for what should have been a ride of less than five minutes.”
And, if the driver “had truly ‘forgotten’ to turn on the meter at the start of the trip, and had turned it on when he realized his mistake, the difference on the meter would likely have been about two bucks,” he adds.
In any case, he says Gayle still would have paid the standard $7 fare.
Stewart says he’s been told by taxi companies that “that there are several reasons why drivers choose to leave the meter off, and they all are aimed at making more money.”
Stewart said the city has raised a variety of concerns with the different cab companies in Coquitlam, “including abandoning disabled passengers [and] trip refusal” and that he has reached out to the company in this case for a response to Gayle’s experience, as well.
He notes that he’s “also had multiple conversations with Transportation Minister Claire Trevena about the current supply-managed taxi regime, a monopoly that so-often fails residents.”
The mayor said it’s “long-past time that we open the doors to more competition in passenger transportation, including ridehailing.”
And, he says, as he got out of his Uber ride in Quebec, he “contemplated” many such ridehailing trips he’s made around the world.
“I’ve never had a bad experience; the only challenges I’ve ever had related with such rides were with taxi drivers,” he writes.
Citing his ride in Quebec, Stewart notes that before he got into the car, he “knew the driver’s name, his experience, and the rating he’d achieved from his customers (4.9 out of 5 stars), and I knew the exact fare that would automatically be paid from my credit card upon arrival. And when I left, I before closing the app I gave him a 5-star rating for a great trip.”
As for Gayle’s story, he said hers among many, including other “more egregious examples of taxi rides gone awry.”
But unfortunately, he said, “I receive more complaints like Gayle’s about our taxi system than about any other type of business in our community.”
This, he said, has to stop.
“Our residents shouldn’t be held hostage to a monopoly,” he concludes. “If taxi companies can’t fix their service, then we need to let competition fix it for them.”
Daily Hive has reached out to Bel-Air Taxi for comment.