Kitimat Council backs a taxi subsidy for airport rides

Seniors, people with disabilities and low-income people in Kitimat will get subsidized taxi rides to the Northwest Regional Airport.

Correction: It was pointed out to me that while I wrote down the amount of the subsidy council was looking at for this service, I neglected to write “per month”. So I am happy to correct myself that the taxi is up to $9,000 per month, and their other option of a van shuttle was $18,000 per month. I apologize for the confusion- Cameron

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Kitimat Council decided they want an airport transportation service, and even decided how to do it, but not before an intense debate over who should really benefit from the service.

Council had determined at an earlier in-camera meeting to submit Request for Proposals (RFPs) for a passenger transportation providers to operate from Kitimat to the Northwest Regional Airport and they received two back for a shuttle bus style program.

When it came back, administration had a couple of options; either go with a shuttle bus service or subsidize individual taxi rides through a local taxi operator.

Taxi rides, ultimately, won the day.

Even as discussion wrapped up, however, councillor Rob Goffinet still expressed his unhappiness regarding council’s decision to not support a shuttle for the general public — he did vote in favour of the taxi proposal in the end, but rather out of defeat than actual support.

“I think we had a really good chance of getting seven to 10 people onto a bus every once in awhile,” said Goffinet as debate wrapped up. “I will not vote against it but this is expensive as well. They all are.”

The costs council was looking at was up to $9,000 a month to subsidize taxi rides up to April 15 (that is the plan which passed) or up to $18,000 a month to subsidize 28 total trips to the airport on a seven-passenger vehicle.

There were options for 47 trips, and options for a larger, 24-passenger bus, but those more expensive options weren’t discussed by council.

The debate passed back and forth, with councillors defeating a motion to move on taxi service, but then later defeating a motion to accept bus service as well, before returning to the cab proposal.

Council even entertained the idea of not even voting on the option at all, and rather tabling it to a Committee of the Whole meeting.

“It’s a good idea but I think we need some more investigation,” said Phil Germuth.

Most of council, however, decided they didn’t want to delay instituting any transportation plans ahead of the Christmas season and that motion was defeated.

When it came to discussing what plan they wanted, Mario Feldhoff remained firmly in the camp of taxis.

“I believe the taxi saver approach will offer a similar service at a more reasonable cost,” he said.

Corinne Scott was also in favour, saying that the District would have to pay the full amount regardless if it was a bus service, instead of just paying per-ride.

“That bus would be moving back and forth whether there were people in the bus or not,” she said. “We would be subsidizing that full amount.”

Goffinet, though, couldn’t see eye-to-eye with the taxi supporters, and said he would rather have a program open to all.

“I think the taxi option, of $30-$40 a head, restricted possibly to people only 60 years and older, goes against a possible attempt to get a public bus going to the airport,” he said.

With a bus, he said, “It’s open to every person who wishes to use it in the community.”

However over-use is something Feldhoff didn’t want to see happen.

“I don’t want the taxi saver program to start being used too much. I want it to serve a need…” but he doesn’t want it to serve people outside their target audience of seniors and people with special needs.

“I believe that most people other than seniors and persons with disabilities will be able to find ways to…get to the airport,” he added, suggesting family members or friends.

Germuth said when the motion was first brought forward that he didn’t like the way it was limited, saying there are seniors in town who are well off.

“I have trouble with taking taxpayer’s money to subsidize some that are wealthy being able to get out there when they could find other ways to get out…and then have people who are less fortunate having to subsidize something like that.”

The motion was then altered to also include people who are eligible for the District of Kitimat’s Leisure Access Program, a way for lower-income people to use public facilities.

Through further discussion council also approved a taxi fare of $30 per rider, or $20 if two or more eligible riders shared the cab.

The program will run to April 15 and will cost council up to $9,000.

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