Haisla Taxi stands to be one of the first casualties of a lack of staff as the promise of big paycheques draws its drivers to jobs with the major projects in Kitimat.
Owner Jim Gristwood last week made a desperate plea for drivers to join the company to avoid having to shut his doors.
“Right now I’m working 17 hours a day, seven days a week, and I’m pushing 82. I’m up at 4 a.m. and I work till as late as 10 p.m., sometimes midnight,” said Gristwood. “It’s crazy – the only reason I’m pushing this so hard is this town has been good to me.”
He says currently the business only has nine drivers on its payroll, which means only three drivers per shift.
“We’re desperately trying to keep the service running 24 hours a day – we’ve been working like this for a year. I am just going to have to shut it down – I’m not going to beat my head against the wall.”
He said while Haisla Taxi currently only has nine vehicles of the road, the business has a licence to put 20 vehicles on the road.
“I have the other cars sitting in the yard that I can get insured quickly, but if I can’t get the drivers there’s no point insuring them.”
He said the company isn’t losing money – two years ago Haisla taxi was making $12,000 a month.
“Now we’re up to over $70,000 a month, but still drivers are going over to the LNG projects – they are paying a lot more money than I can,” said Gristwood.
This is the second time he will be closing the business – Haisla Taxi shut down in 2005. In June 2016 Gristwood was approached by then Haisla councillor Ellis Ross, the District of Kitimat and Kitimat RCMP, asking him to reopen Haisla Taxi to cope with the anticipated influx of people into Kitimat associated with the LNG Canada project.
“I should never have gotten back into it. I don’t have to work, but it’s the public that I’m feeling sorry for,” said Gristwood, who serves as the company’s dispatcher.
Gristwood started Haisla Taxi in 1992 with one cab – he named the company after his wife at the time.
“I was married to a lady from the village. I had guys who wouldn’t ride in my cab because it had the name Haisla,” said Gristwood with a chuckle. “A year later I owned all the taxi operating in Kitimat.”
He said another challenge the company faces stems from the different rates taxi companies across the province are allowed to charge – the flag rate, referring to the amount that appears on the meter as soon as the taxi driver activates it.
“Our hands are tied – transportation has the hand on the meter. We have asked that we can charge the same flag rate that Terrace and Prince Rupert charge.”
He said even though the Passenger Transportation Board had increased the company’s flag rate by five per cent two months ago, it still wasn’t enough.
Haisla Taxi’s flag rate is currently $3.80 whereas taxi in Prince Rupert and Terrace are able to charge a flag rate of $4.50.
He said another challenge is the different rate per kilometre that taxi companies are allowed to charge – Haisla Taxi may only charge $1.85 per kilometre.
“Our drivers should be making 25 to 30 dollars an hour for us to compete with the high paying jobs.”
Gristwood said Haisla Taxi isn’t the only company that is feeling the pinch as employees look towards moving over to the projects.
“Stores, motels, restaurants – employers who are paying minimum wage are losing their workers,” said Gristwood.
He is hoping that by advertising for Class 4 unrestricted drivers throughout the region he might be able to get enough drivers to keep the doors open.
“If I can’t find more drivers I will be forced to shut down and sell the company.”
The Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) is an independent tribunal in B.C. established under the Passenger Transportation Act.
Taxis and limousines carrying no more than 11 passengers in B.C. must charge rates that are set or approved by the PTB.
The PTB’s primary responsibility is to make decisions on applications relating to the licensing of taxis and inter-city buses in the province.