News / Calgary

Calgary’s taxi plate market tanking after Uber, new plate approval

Grey market losing value by the minute

Calgary's cabbies didn't all buy into the taxi plate business, but those who hold the once-valued plates are feeling stiffed.

Metro File Photo

Calgary's cabbies didn't all buy into the taxi plate business, but those who hold the once-valued plates are feeling stiffed.

For plate-holding taxi drivers, Uber’s entrance into the market is certainly high stakes.

What used to garner drivers a “retirement plan” of sorts, to the tune of more than $140,000, has dwindled in the past months from about $50,000 to $20,000 – with one Kijiji ad offering a measly $500 for the once-treasured plates.

“Taxi plates are now worthless,” reads the Kijiji ad. “I will pay $500.00 for a regular taxi plate. But you better hurry because this offer may expire at any time.”

This change has left some plate owners at a loss. Although vocal, they remain afraid to identify themselves when speaking out about the industry they see nose-diving and cite 30 to 40 per cent less demand for rides.

Three of the city’s top cab brokers hold 751 transferable taxi plates, that leaves 660 transferable plates in the hands of taxi drivers out of a total existing 1,411 plates.

In 2012, the city stopped issuing transferable plates, and when drivers are done with them those get returned to the city for redistribution.

According to chief livery inspector Mario Henriques, they’re in charge of determining if a driver is eligible to receive a plate transfer.

“The cost associated with the transfer was managed by the plate holder and recipient,” said Henriques. “Just like other business investments plate values are market driven and based on the anticipated rate of return the plate is anticipated to generate in a given period.”

According to one driver, who asked not to be named, he bought his plate at $20,000 30 years ago, but could have sold it two years ago for upwards of $200,000 and retired. One of his friends, who Metro spoke with thought he “got a deal” in 2014 buying a plate for roughly $160,000.

“I played by the rules,” said one driver. “The city’s been complicit in the value of these plates over the years, and now they’re just going to wash their hands of it...nobody seems to care, unless you own one.”

He’s not sure where to go next, and friends of his in the industry who have taken out mortgages on their homes to get the once-coveted licenses are watching as the value of their “investment” plummets.

In Ottawa, cab drivers filed a class action lawsuit for $215 million in 2015 after Uber’s launch alleging the city didn’t take necessary steps to keep their industry intact when faced with the technological company.

To that, Henriques said the city doesn’t have much to say, they don’t make a habit of commenting on the merits of potential legal suits in other jurisdictions.

“The vehicle-for-hire industry is evolving, and City Council has made changes to its bylaws in response to that,” said Henriques. “The city has worked to understand and address the concerns and interests of all stakeholders. We know there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.”

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