Members of the Passenger Transportation Branch of the Ministry Transportation traveled to the Peace Region last week to discuss problems with the city's taxi service and look for ways to solve them.
The government officials made a pit stop in Fort St. John on their way to Dawson Creek where they were headed to deal with the Mile Zero City's similar problems.
Tourism stakeholders expressed their concerns about the city's current taxi transportation challenges, which ran the gamut from insufficient vehicles, driver licensing issues and virtual local monopolization of licenses to accessibility issues.
Darren Thomson, chair of Tourism Fort St. John, said his group made headway with the province.
"We suggested that the next time they are considering an application for a new license that they come to the municipality to talk to stakeholders," said Thomson, who found out that nobody had ever suggested that to Ministry before.
"Generally they sit in Victoria and look at the number of licenses and decide based on plate utilization," said Thomson, "It creates more of hassle for them to have to come here and connect with the community, but it will give them a better idea of the need."
Fort St. John currently has three taxi licenses, two of which are held by Teco Cabs, and one other held by Energetic Cabs. The two companies operate 24 vehicles, 23 of which are driven by Teco.
"Energetic Cabs have been providing exceptional service doing things the way they're supposed to be done in a much more customer-oriented way," explained Thomson.
Since Teco's service issues have drawn public attention, Thomson said, the company has been trying to improve by putting more vehicles on the road and providing more courteous service.
Furthermore, Thomson has secured a promise by the RCMP to expedite the licensing process to ensure that potential drivers won't end up waiting months to get behind the wheel.
The bureaucrats promised that they would seriously consider expediting any application for a new taxi license in Fort St. John in order to address the city's service issues.
That's good news for local shuttle driver Mike Brewer who's currently trying to get his taxi company, Plaisance Transportation Solutions, off the ground.
He started working on the company four months ago and has finally "got all his ducks in a row," as Brewer said.
Getting those ducks lined up hasn't been an easy task though.
Brewer has to prove an urgent need within the community before the Ministry of Transportation will seriously look at his application. Given Fort St. John's present situation, Brewer said the list of urgencies is lengthy.
Brewer was inspired to get into the taxi business when he saw taxi drivers lifting disabled residents in and out of vehicles and stuffing their chairs in the trunk.
"We're supposed to be a city, but we have small-town transportation," explained Brewer, "When the Handi-Dart isn't available and they don't want to be lifted into a cab, what are these people supposed to do?"
Another serious deficiency, according to Brewer, is the lack of available cabs when the bars close. Brewer, who runs one of the many bar-financed shuttles, said that people should be able to reasonably count on a quick way to get home after a night on the town.
"If the bars didn't provide shuttles it would take them until 4 in morning before the bars would be cleared. As it is it still takes three quarters of an hour," he said.
He also pointed out that there isn't a good way for Fort St. John residents to go to a show at the EnCana Centre in Dawson Creek unless people can find a designated driver.
"There's a big gap in the system and I'd like to fill it. I'm hoping to get some cabs, limousines and a bus so that we can fill all the little holes in the transportation system.
That's the key to his business plan. Brewer said he would run buses to local ski areas, make airport runs to Fort St. John and Grande Prairie and be available for charter services.
"There's not enough of one thing to keep a big full-time staff, but there are a lot of little things we can cover," said Brewer, "I can bounce around my drivers to different vehicles and services."
Brewer said that he looks forward to being able to provide the city with high-quality and flexible service.
Thomson said that if residents feel that the city needs more cabs they should write to the local tourism board via city hall and he will forward those letters to Victoria to ensure a timely license issuance.