Uber. (Photo by © Can Stock Photo / makidotvn)

Cab Company Owner Slams Idea Of Uber Coming In

The owner of a Chatham taxi service, who is angry at recent comments by the mayor about possibly bringing Uber to the municipality, says promoting an unlicensed alternative is “highly inappropriate.”

Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope recently told Blackburn News that it is time to start having more “progressive talks” about bringing Uber to the municipality, now that Radio Cabs has announced it is closing up in 2018.

John Willatt, who is the owner of Ace Taxi in Chatham, is not pleased that Uber is back on the table in Chatham-Kent and thinks the ride-share company “is just not the way to go.”

“When you’re the head of a council that’s regulating the taxi industry, you shouldn’t think that an unlicensed transportation provider is the way to go forward,” says Willatt.

Willatt explains that it is extremely difficult to be a regulated taxi business. He says they pay around $400 per month on insurance for each vehicle, they have to get a MTO safety test every six months, the cabs can be called in for inspection at any time, and the owners pay fees to the municipality. He says taxi drivers must also pay for a license issued by the municipality and have regular police background checks.

“The alternative with Uber, as we’ve seen in other markets, is that pretty well anyone can apply. The company does its own background check, it doesn’t use the police service, so potentially you could have someone with a criminal record. They could do a 12-hour shift in a factory, jump in the car, and go pick up people. It’s completely unregulated,” explains Willatt.

In a previous article on BlackburnNewsCk.com, Mayor Hope mentioned that Uber has never reached out to Chatham-Kent or expressed any interest in coming to the municipality. Willatt says he can see why there would be a lack of interest on Uber’s end.

“I don’t know of any places as small as Chatham that they’ve take an interest in. They’re mostly interested in big cities with a big student population and people with smart phones. I just don’t see them coming to Chatham. It’s not enough business to keep the existing cab companies, so why would they think it’s enough to warrant the intervention?” says Willatt.

Willatt says that taxi companies previously worked with municipality administration on a major taxi by-law restructuring and set up a zoning system that would allow taxi companies to be formed outside of Chatham itself. He says the taxi companies have to pay substantial licensing fees to the municipality and accept regulation in exchange for protection from unlicensed operators. However, he was unhappy when owners had to agree to a 30 plate limit in Chatham. He says these plates were not equally shared among the three companies operating at that time.

“I went to the council meeting, as did Pat Weaver, who was the owner of Radio Cabs at the time. I put forward the position that I thought that it should be a more equal sharing of the number of the plates issued. He put forward an opinion that if I wanted more cabs on the roads, I should’ve had them by then and council went with his opinion. He got 16 or 17 plates, Courtesy got about 10, and I just got the three that I had. It meant that I couldn’t grow,” says Willatt.

Willatt says he has always thought 30 cabs is too much in Chatham, so now that Radio Cabs is leaving, he’s hoping there will be a more fair sharing of the plates.

“There is no panic. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Because Radio Cabs has announced that they’re going to close down, that doesn’t mean that those plates won’t be redistributed to other people.” he says.

Radio Cabs’ last day of operations will be December 31.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen until those plates are returned to Chatham-Kent,” says Willatt.