When Anoop Singh, 36, entered the taxi business seven years ago, he was making 15 trips to and from Vancouver’s YVR airport per day. Now, he works double shifts and is lucky to make eight.
“This was a sanctuary at one time,” said Singh. “You could make some decent cash and look after your rent and mortgages, but not anymore.
“Now, you’re barely keeping up with the expenses.”
Business is lagging for Vancouver Airport taxi drivers. The economic downturn and opening of the Canada Line have reduced demand for taxi services and many drivers are struggling to make a living.
Yet, YVR taxi regulations have not changed to reflect such challenges and the Airport Authority has done little to remedy the situation.
Sat Gill, YVR’s manager of ground transportation, said the airport taxi business has slowed in recent months. Wait times have increased for airport taxi drivers, but there are no current plans to change license regulations.
“We are currently going into our second year of a four-year agreement with taxi companies so we try not to, under any circumstances, increase or decrease the number of taxis during a contract term,” Gill said.
YVR drivers buy taxi licenses for $396 a month and have to complete a minimum of 45 trips to and from the airport each month.
“The airport license regulation doesn’t reflect the current economic situation,” said Anoop Singh, who has driven for five years with Surdell-Kennedy Taxis Ltd.
“When you can’t promise us business, why do you want me to sit here and not make money?”
Listen to taxi driver Anoop Singh’s concerns about the business:[audio:https://thethunderbird.ca/html/wp-content/themes/WpAdvNewspaper/audio/Anoop.mp3]
Darjit Singh, who has driven for Bonny’s Taxis for 12 years, said the problems faced by the taxi business are worsened by current regulations.
“Right now, there are too many cabs at the airport,” he said. “For the past few months, we have been waiting over two hours for each fare. The economy has brought down business and there are very few passengers to pick up these days.”
Aviation activity at the airport decreased by 10.9 per cent between 2008 and 2009, according to a Vancouver Airport Authority report.
The new Canada Line further impacted the taxi business, offering travellers a less expensive trip from the airport to downtown. TransLink reported an average daily ridership of 83, 027 between Sept. 9 and Oct. 6. This number is expected to rise to 100,000 by January 2010.
“I’d say there’s been about a 40 percent decrease in business in the past few months,” said Charanjit Dhillon, who drives for Sunshine Cabs. “I blame a lot of it on the Canada Line.”
Some airport taxi drivers view the 2010 Winter Games as the last hope for the industry.
“I’m waiting for the Olympics to make money and then maybe I’ll find other job,” said Darjit Singh. “A cleaning job would be better than this. At least I’d be making minimum wage.”
YVR’s Sat Gill warned that the Olympics would have little impact on airport taxis.
“For us here, VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) is responsible for a vast majority of the transportation for the media, the athletes, and the families,” he said. “All those people will use the VANOC system so the actual increase in passenger loads for taxis is not significant.”
The Lower Mainland Taxi Association formed recently to address challenges faced by taxi drivers. The group is designed to represent and promote the interests of Lower Mainland drivers in the Vancouver area.
Gill, whose job involves the organization and management of YVR’s ground transportation, said the establishment of the group is long overdue.
“If they came up with a good plan, we would be happy to consider it,” he said. “All I want at the end of the day is service for the customer. If they find a better, more efficient way to do it, well then, fantastic.”
YVR taxi drivers remain concerned that their voices are not being heard.
“There are people who need this career to support their mortgages and their kids but we’re making no money and nobody’s listening,” said Anoop Singh.
“We pay to be represented at the Taxi Association but no complaints are ever taken. Everyone is working hard here, but we’re making less than minimum wage.”