Taxi Industry

Winnipeg Taxis: In Short Supply

I have been in the taxi business since 1973.  I did spend several years as a professional jewelry appraiser and Graduate Gemologist.  I also worked as a manager for a large contact center.  My years in the taxi industry included driving, dispatching, training, owning and supervision. 

About 30 years of my working years involved taxis and I also developed a supreme knowledge of Winnipeg. Below is a section of the Taxicab Board website.  They operate currently under the provincial ministry of Municipal Government.  The mandate has not been followed.  Please enjoy the blog.

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The Taxicab Board is an independent quasi-judicial administrative tribunal established under authority of The Manitoba Taxicab Act to licence and regulate all taxicabs, wheelchair vans and limousines operating in the City of Winnipeg. As legislated, Board membership includes a member of the City of Winnipeg Council, the Chief Constable of the Winnipeg Police Force, and five other persons appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.

Objectives:
The mandate of the Taxicab Board is to ensure that persons within Winnipeg receive adequate taxicab service at a reasonable cost. The Board fulfils this objective through engaging in the following activities:

Conducts public hearings to consider applications for:
more and/or different classes of licences,
fare increases,
industry proposals,
interest group(s’) proposals, etc.;
Establish, review, and revise the limit on the number of taxicab licences, as determined by public convenience and necessity;
Control and issue taxicab business licences;
Review and approve taxicab business licence transfers;
Issue taxicab driver licences;
Facilitate training for taxicab drivers;
Assess and establish the fare structure and monitor actual rates charged;
Implement a comprehensive inspection program for taxicabs including general inspections, street patrols, mechanical inspections, and taxicab meter inspections;
Investigate and resolve complaints against taxicab operators and drivers;
Discipline taxicab operators and drivers by conducting Show Cause Hearings on perceived violations of legislation and regulations, or on complaints;
Monitor the accessibility of transportation for the physically disabled;
Monitor the health and viability of the taxicab industry in Winnipeg;
Determine policy and procedures which arise in the exercise of the Board’s discretionary powers and provide policy input to the Government on broader taxicab policy issues; and
Maintain a liaison with the taxicab industry, user interest groups, other taxicab regulatory agencies and governments.

Manitoba is the only province in Canada that has jurisdiction over the taxi business in its cities. All other cities in the other provinces control their mass transit including Taxis.

Winnipeg had 300 taxis way back in 1947. It was decided by the province that an additional 100 taxis was needed to provide employment for war veterans.  A company called Veterans Nash was formed in 1947.  That brought the total to 400 taxis in Winnipeg. 
Approximately 40 years later the province added 10 taxis in a luxury class.  These Cadillac taxis ran under a company called Blue Line, however, after 5 years it failed and those plates were converted to regular taxis bringing the total taxis in Winnipeg to 410.

Since then the Taxicab Board has added about 41 Accessible Taxis to the Winnipeg fleet. These are vans with wheelchair access. Total increase in 66 years is a whopping 51 taxis.  Winnipeg only has 451 taxis.  Compared to other similar cities we are very short on cabs.

The following statistics are drawn from Statistics Canada 2011-2013 and the Websites of the cities to be mentioned.

  • So, Winnipeg has 451 units to service 750,000 citizens or 1 taxi per 1662 souls.  Cost: $1.38/km
  • Calgary has 1466 units to service 1,214,839 citizens or 1 taxi per 829 souls.  Cost. $1.55/km
  • Edmonton has 1971 units to service 1,159,869 citizens or 1 taxi per 588 souls.  Cost.  $1.48km
  • Regina has 146 units to service 230,000 citizens or 1 taxi per 1250 souls. Cost. $1.81km

Winnipeg has the lowest cost taxi rides of the above samples. We also have a fraction of the taxis. Funny thing is that the price to pay if you want to purchase a taxi is about $450,000.  In the other cities named the purchase cost is a fraction of that.

Winnipeg taxi owners have a monopoly on taxis since the Taxicab Board supports this monopoly and refuses to allow more taxicabs in Winnipeg. 

Immediately, the new city council should begin negotiations with the province to take over the taxi service in its city.  The province doesn’t seem to realize that we have urban sprawl and almost twice the population since 1948.

The taxi service in Winnipeg is awful. So bad that a trip to our new airport can’t be guaranteed to be on time or even show up. 

If you go out for the evening and plan on a few drinks, do you deserve to wait 30 minutes to go out and even longer to return? Yes, if taxis were readily available we would reduce the drinking and driving.

Shame on the provincial government for not enforcing the mandate to provide service. It’s time to break the monopoly and bring Winnipeg in line with (at least) Regina. 1 taxi for every 1250 citizens. You want a better Winnipeg for visitors and its citizens. Start with the taxi service. It requires no civic investment. I’m embarrassed to have to force a 45 minute wait for a taxi at times. 

We should not be the lowest cost taxi and we should be able to service all of Winnipeg promptly. 

In closing, you should know that with the exception of Toronto and Vancouver, a taxi trades for 50 to 250 thousand dollars. Winnipeg = $450,000.

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14 Misconceptions About Winnipeg Part 2

Once again this week I have challenged myself to find a topic for my “Leonard vs Life” blog.  I have decided that since all of my 58 years of life has been spent in Winnipeg, it would be a piece of work to explain what Winnipeg really is. 

Last week I presented 7 points that if improved would help put Winnipeg on the map as a Destination City. Here now are the final 7 points that would make Winnipeg a better place to live, rather than leave.

8. Winnipeg is one of the largest cities in Canada.  Barely. Statistics Canada says: Winnipeg is the 8th largest city in Canada with a population of 771,221 (2013).

Winnipeg has a significant and increasing Aboriginal population, with both the highest percentage of Aboriginal peoples (11.7%) for any major Canadian city, and the highest total number of Aboriginals (76,055) for any single non-reserve municipality.The Aboriginal population grew by 22% between 2001 and 2006, compared to an increase of 3% for the city as a whole; this population tends to be younger and less wealthy than non-Aboriginal residents. Winnipeg also has the highest Métis population in both percentage (6.3%) and numbers (41,005); the growth rate for this population between 2001 and 2006 was 30%. The city has the greatest percentage of Filipino residents (8.7%) of any major Canadian city, although Toronto has more Filipinos by total population. In 2006, Winnipeg ranked seventh of the Canadian cities for percentage of residents of a visible minority. The population is 67.5% white as of 2011 (down from 73.5% in 2006), while non-aboriginal visible minorities represent 21.4% as of 2011 (up from 16.3% in 2006). The city receives over 10,000 net international immigrants per year.

9. The new civic government, which will be elected this October, will be saddled with debt, audits of severe overspending that borders on corruption, and debates over infrastructure and rapid transit just to suggest a few challenges. Questionable planning and urban sprawl has stressed budgets and taxes out of control. 

10. Economic activity is on the rise. NOT.

The city is saddled with limited opportunities for young adults. Many families have been fragmented since after graduating from college or university the kids leave Winnipeg for greener pastures. Both of my daughters have left Winnipeg with no plans of returning. My sister has 2 sons who have also left Winnipeg. This results in slow growth of young educated population and a sliding tax base.

11. Winnipeg has a low poverty level.  NOT.

The number of families and singles living below the poverty level in Winnipeg is stunting it’s growth and in  my opinion the result of limited opportunity.  The busiest days for the economic activity in Winnipeg are limited and predictable. Most families living in poverty have 2 to 5 children.  On or around the 20th of every month Winnipeg comes alive when the Child Tax credit arrives. Shopping for groceries, spending on social activities and taxis are taxed to the limit. Three days later, the money is gone.  At the end of the month the 60,000 or so on Social Service support to get paid. Seniors get their pensions and it’s payday in Winnipeg. For 5 days economic activity spikes, bars and stores are full, taxis are in short supply, and then the money runs out.  Agencies like food banks, and shelters carry the impoverished until the cycle repeats itself. Without the government support Winnipeg would look like Detroit.

12. Winnipeg has a lot of taxi’s.  NOT. 

Compared to other cities Winnipeg has almost half the number of taxis it should. Statistics show a range of 1 taxi for every 600 to 1200 of population in all cities. Winnipeg has 1 taxi for 1750 in population. Considering the demand, we are way out of line.  It’s a little known fact but in 1945 Winnipeg had 300 taxis. I’m 1947 we added 100 cabs to employ war veterans. That brings us up to 400 in 1947. In 2014, Winnipeg has only 410 taxis and 41 accessible taxis. So in 67 years of growth we have only added 51 taxis to the Winnipeg fleet of 451 taxis. 

No coverage for urban sprawl. Hours of waiting at certain times of the day. I could go on but what’s the point? Better take your car to the Airport.  You might have to drink and drive.  Blame the province! Manitoba is the only province to control taxis in a city. In other cities the civic government controls the cabs through a civic taxi commission. It’s time to look at taxis as civic Infrastructure.

13. Civic planning is right on.  NOT

Did it make sense to build a football stadium at the south end of the city?  Did it make sense to move the Red River Exhibition to the West Perimeter?  Does the University of Winnipeg expanding on prime downtown land make for good planning? Why are we wasting so much money on rapid transit? Is Winnipeg really big enough to afford the billions it costs? How come we aren’t building up the downtown to increase density to support downtown as a vibrant community? These are my thoughts and I think you get the message. Civic planning is a FAIL.

14. Finally, as good as the media in Winnipeg reacts to stories that sell, I would like to see a little more effort on focus to create a Winnipeg that works.

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Moving on Up!

In 2001 I stopped working as a Manager at Convergys, which was a contact center with 2000 employees in Winnipeg. After the tragedy on 9/11 in New York I decided to resign and started driving a taxi for a friend.

The owner of the company needed a Dispatcher so he suggested that I drive weekends and dispatch for him during the week. Done. After a couple years my friend left the taxi business to drive a truck (and moved to Quebec).

What happened next was that I was hired full time as the night Manager/Dispatcher. We started building this taxi company and by 2005 we nearly doubled the size of the fleet.

It was suggested that I move across the street from the taxi company into the Hotel. I was now on call from 5pm to 7am and had to be nearby in case of emergency.

So, on my 50th birthday I moved into this hotel, subsidized by the company. I started a new life experience. Now, living in a hotel has its pros and cons. This place had a wild bar, restaurant with good food and only 5 monthly tenants, mostly hotel staff.

Since I worked nights, I aways missed the drinking and drug parties. I also missed the fights and arguments that happened at bar closing time. I slept the day away, and for a single man, the space was adequate and fully equipped.

Over the last 8.5 years the hotel has been sold three times. Now on it’s 4th owner, more changes are coming. The bar is being converted to a Gentleman’s Club. The bar will feature non-stop strippers and a few rooms have been set aside to be rented by the hour

Although I can remain here, the cost has increased. I’m on a disability pension and no longer work. Why live in what will surely become a strip joint/brothel?

I got lucky. A friend of mine called me and suggested I apply at his apartment block because an opening was coming on September 1. That block is exactly in the suburb I grew up in and is located next door to everything. This 55 plus block is subsidized and because of my age and disability, I qualify. I raced to the block tò check out the suite at the top and went to fill the application. Thanks to connections to the blocks owners I was able to secure approval for September 1 possession!

My rent will drop to less than half of what it costs me in this hotel. Finally after 9 years of core city living. I’m moving on up to the 8th floor!

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Out of the Bush

When you drive a taxi, every fare can turn into an adventure. This is a true story of a taxi fare with a sense of adventure.

Back in October of 1994 I was driving a night shift. At about 7pm, I was sent into the Winnipeg Airport to pick up a customer. This was a flight from northern Manitoba. At the terminal, I found my fare….. ayoung couple of aboriginal decent.

The man was dressed in jeans and a USA Secret Service baseball hat. His wife was also decked out in denim. They had flown in from Gods Lake which is a Cree Indian reserve.

They were extremely friendly and happy to be out of the bush. They were fishing and hunting guides and the season was ending for them. They had just guided a group of American fishing enthusiasts.

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He immediately handed me $100. I was asked if I could be their driver for the night. I said, “Sure”. He then handed me another $100. Okay, this was wonderful but u needed to know why he was so generous.

He said that the Secret Service hat was a gift from his last group. George H Bush. Yep, that one. The older Bush that was President of the USA until January 1994. The hat was from one of his security detail. Apparently, he paid big money for the best guide and although he never revealed his fee, my fare had a few thousand dollars in his pocket.

The first stop was for supper at the Ming Court. He asked me to join him and his wife. Okay, I like Chinese food. For that he called me a nice guy and offered me another $100. So, we went and dined and he told me stories about George W Bush. After dinner he thanked me for joining them and offered me another $100.

The next stop was to be the Bar at the St. Regis Hotel. The man had been drinking quite a bit during dinner and he fell down the 4 stairs from the restaurant to the lobby. I had to pick him up because he had messed up his foot. I put him Into the car and suggested a hospital visit to check hit foot. He was in pain, but still in a good mood. He thanked me for my assistance and hands me another $100.

I took them to the hospital emergency and pushed him into the room to check in. They told us that it would be a few hours wait for treatment. I asked my customers if I should wait and they said it could be a while so I could leave.

I thanked them for their generosity and his wife told me that they left some money in the back seat. He said that would be my TIP. His wife agreed.

So, back in the taxi I looked into the back seat and sure enough a small wad of $100’s. Only $600 for the tip. It was only 11pm and I had just earned $1100 for about 4 hours work, courtesy of President George H Bush Sr.

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A Taxi Story

Several years ago, when I drove a taxi on the night shift, I came upon many unbelievable fares with weird requests. One of the stories that has never left me was so out of character, this week I want to share it with you.

It was a rainy night in Winnipeg, and about 4am, I came up to a red light at a major intersection. Clinging to the light standard was a gentleman who was dressed shabby and looked homeless. I was concerned about his mobility, so I put on my hazard lights and approached this fellow.
I asked him if he was alright and able to walk. He indicated that he was having trouble because of his arthritis. Now imagine a hobo, with a matted beard, rotten teeth, and dirty damp clothes with no jacket.

I felt empathy for him and asked if I could drop him off somewhere dry and indoors. He replied in a southern Texas drawl that he would appreciate a taxi since no one would stop for him. Oh really! This guy has money?

I helped him into the taxi and began my questions, “First, do you have money for the cab fare?” He digs into his pocket and pulled out a wad of US dollars exceeding $5000. I counted it for him.

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This was the request of my hobo friend. He wanted to pick up a girl at one of the massage parlours and then I would return him to his Private Jet. I would wait for him to finish with the girl and then return her to the parlour. That was the trip.

He immediately paid me $500 US for the fare. He explained that he owned lots of oil wells in Texas and had no idea where he was. At his insistence I put the money away, turned on the meter and pulled up to the massage parlour. I went inside and asked for a volunteer, and found him a cute brunette.

She jumped into the taxi and couldn’t believe her eye’s what I brought her. That was until he gave her a $500US deposit. Now we’re off to the airport.

I pull into the private jet parking and he points out a Gulfstream jet. I approached the plane, honked the horn and out comes a young lady to assist my fare. Before he leaves he asked me to take another $500US for following his instructions and reminds me to wait for the girl.

I asked his attendant if he was for real. She explained that he was one of the wealthiest Texans she new, and he heard about Winnipeg and wanted to see it first hand. She also explained that the hobo look is real. He likes to look penniless.

About an hour later the girl returned to the taxi ,very happy with her payment and I returned her to the workplace.

Forest Gump said, ” taxi driving is like a box of chocolates. You never know what your going to get.”

 

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Scared Straight

So, the old saying that you hear about the illicit drug abuse world is that you have three choices: You quit, die, or go to jail. It was time for me to choose.

The challenge is, what enables you to actually decide to buy into that old saying? In my case it was two fold. I had a couple daughters that left or would be leaving Winnipeg and I had to be able to finance my occasional visits. I was over 50 years old and getting older AND tired of the same daily routine of work then drugs and then sleep.

Although I had never had any medical problems, sickness or emergency issues because of smoking crack, I did notice one important change:  I was increasingly becoming paranoid after just a couple puffs of crack. The room would go quiet. I froze in position and listened for any signs of my room being invaded by police, gangsters, or stranger’s.

I always got high by myself. Only one or two people could say that they saw me smoke crack. Nobody had ever seen me actually purchase the cocaine. I was just growing tired of the routine.

I slowly cut back on my consumption until my daily use was costing only $20 per day. That allowed me two puffs on the pipe but that was still too much to hide the paranoia. Finally, one day in early 2010, I woke up after a night of terror over nothing and decided that I would never ever again use cocaine AGAIN, in any form.

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By June of 2010 I had saved a couple thousand dollars for a visit to Vancouver to see my daughter Blair, and younger brother Alan and family. That was my first real vacation since 1992.

Next post we’ll talk about my adventures driving to Vancouver in a Toyota Prius, and the wonderful time that I had. I’ll also discuss the nightmare of a drive home when the Prius blew up in Field, BC.

The next story is hilarious!

 

What? Crack this!

So, here it is 2001 and the terrorists just flew a fleet of jets into the World Trade Center and The Pentagon. What was the USA coming to? A friend had just purchased a taxi cab and suggested I drive it part time. So, being a good friend I said, “Sure”. The owner of the cab company needed a dispatcher for 3 days a week so being a nice guy I said, “Sure, I can dispatch.”

I now had jobs galore to replace my former jewelry appraisal business. I was: a dispatcher, taxi driver, property manager, caretaker, and supervised at Convergys. Those 5 jobs put enough pressure on me to search for relief.

Someone asked me if I ever smoked crack. “What? Crack this!” was my response. Seriously, I had heard the term used in the American project’s, but I needed to know what this crack thing was all about.

This is what I learned:

Cocaine is a hydrochloride. Crack or “Free Base” (as it’s really called) is a chloride. In simple terms, if you remove the hydrogen from cocaine, you now have crack. Cocaine Hydrochloride or Cocaine Chloride. Simple chemistry. Home cooked and a very simple process. Not only are you removing the Hydrogen from the coke but also anything else that may be mixed into the powder will be left behind. The end product is cocaine in it’s purest form, which is why we call it Free Base.

There is a slow cook process that was developed to allow the free base to keep the various cuts present in the cocaine and that I will call “rock”. Unless the crack is mostly cut, when smoked it will have a crackling sound as it vaporizes. If it’s rock the crackling noise will be faded or missing.

To process cocaine into Free Base is simple and being a Gemologist I understand chemistry.  I’ll use a 1 gram formula as an example (and to help you understand).

  • Pour 1 gram of powder cocaine into a tablespoon.
  • Add 1/3 gram of baking soda and add water to just below the top of the tablespoon.
  • The powder cocaine will dissolve in the water and the baking soda will remain at the bottom of the spoon.
  • With a lighter heat the bottom of the spoon to just before a boil and keep the temperature steady for a couple minutes. You will hear the chemical reaction as a snap crackle and pop as the hydrogen is removed.
  • When the popping sound stops your left with an oil floating on the top of the water. As you cool the water the oil will solidify.  So, you will need to use a pin to gather the solidifying oil together.
  • The end result will be your rock of pure free base cocaine. If you weigh the rock you should have about .85 of a gram. This you can break into 8 smokeable pieces.

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This is what I was taught and rarely did I use a gram. I did not want to kill myself and I almost always smoked alone. I have never condoned the use of any drug and feel the same to this day. Don’t even try this because next week I will describe what happened to me after only 1 puff of a small piece of pure cocaine.

Next week it will be a wild ride to the other side.

 

Slip and Fall

After my rehabilitation for cocaine use the urge to inject with a needle remained. After work, I would socialize with the street people, who had yet to discover coke but were using an injectable drug.

That turned out to be a combination of Talwin and Ritalin. Mixed together correctly and injected , the high was a relaxing heroin type feeling.

Compared to coke, the T’s & R’s, as they were called, saved me a small fortune when compared to cocaine. For $40 I could remain high for several hours. I found a girl who was a lady of the night and a user of the T&R combination who eventually became my girlfriend.

It was 1992 when I decided that my young family shouldn’t see me this way, and that my wife shouldn’t have to suffer from my addiction.

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I left my two young daughters and wife (who immediately divorced me). I left the jewelry business for that taxi cab industry, where I could work alongside my girlfriend. We continued to work together and feed our addiction to Talwin and Ritalin. I did this until 1996 when I could no longer find an injectable vein.

We both stopped using drugs for a while and our relationship faded . I just about hit bottom and had a bad slip and fall into a hotel room, where I lived alone. So, continued to work in the Taxi industry.

In the summer of 1996 I moved from the hotel into a rooming house and began to work with AT&T, developing the Internet and related billing systems. Later, the company sold my division to what would become Convergys and I was employed as a supervisor who was drug free. I thought I was clean.

I started to assemble what would become Broadband High Speed Internet. I remained working at Convergys until 2001 when I had another slip and fallI discovered crack cocaine and, once again, it was back to drugs…..

Every Monday I will post a new blog post (the continuation of my story/the above post). Feel free to follow my blog and comment below.