News / Calgary

Calgary cabbies buck bylaw, ignore customer calls a third of the time: Data

Calgary cab drivers spent one-third of their working hours shunning customer calls over a one-month period earlier this year despite a bylaw barring the practice, according to telling data made public by city officials late Monday.

The figures are included in a report on new GPS and taximeter tracking done conducted by city officials that is due to go before the Taxi Limousine Advisory Committee on Friday. The findings reflect the habits of cabbies for the month of July, a particularly bustling period for drivers given the Calgary Stampede.

According to the report, the 97 per cent of city drivers included in the city's tracking initiative spent 30.7 per cent of their time transporting customers, 35.6 per cent of their time booked onto dispatch without a fare and 33.7 per cent of the time doing neither. The thinking outlined in the report is that cabbies off-dispatch are likely hunting for guaranteed fares from customers hailing rides at the roadside.

But the fallout for prospective customers like Jennifer Jackson, who's tried calling in the past on weekends for a cab to the downtown from her home in the southwest, is never-ending busy signals and hours-long waits.

"We have tried calling from past events on two or three different phones and always had trouble getting through," she said. "Once someone does, they sit on hold forever only to be told it's an hour-plus wait."

Efem, a driver of eight years with Associated Cabs, admits he shuts off the dispatch system if he gets frustrated with "no-trip" calls, that is where he heads to the location that a call was placed only to find no customers around.

"Some people call multiple companies — it can be really frustrating . . . I just go to the airport or the downtown — the downtown is very good," said the driver, who Metro identified only by a nickname to avoid potential repercussions from his employer and city livery officers.

But the city's livery bylaw clearly states that a driver must be booked onto a brokerage's dispatch system and must prioritize calls assigned by the system over flagged trips.

The bylaw states any driver violating the rules could be slapped with a fine up to $1,000.

"It's just turned into a very big, vicious circle over the years and it's got to stop. The drivers have got to book in (to dispatch), the customers have got to be more trustworthy and not phone more than one cab company," — Kurt Enders, Checker Yellow Cabs owner

City officials were expected to comment on the report Tuesday. (You can read it all by clicking here.)

Jackson, meanwhile, says she's turned to the app recently launched by Associated Cabs and has had some success with pre-booking rides home hours in advance.

Metro reporters venturing to and from their own office Christmas party over the weekend, however, found struggles with obtaining a ride using the smartphone offerings, especially during the early- and late-evening hours.

Kurt Enders, owner of Checker Yellow Cabs, said drivers off the dispatch are still providing a service by taking home swarming crowds of revellers from downtown bars, but did concede they're breaking the law in the process.

In a bid to improve trust, Enders said his company began providing its drivers with the cellphone number of call-in customers in hopes the pair can link up to reinforce  trust that a ride is on its way and a customer is waiting patiently for it.

"The customer has got to take some responsibility for this as well," Enders said.

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