The Town of Smithers, along with many citizens and businesses are increasingly concerned about the lack of taxi or ride-sharing services in the Bulkley Valley, and are trying to raise awareness of the problem to find solutions for getting people around in town.
In a meeting held at town hall in Smithers Nov. 24, attendees heard from business owners, hotel managers, tourism operators and the general public was concerning to everyone involved.
Last spring, less than two years after Paddy Hirshfield and Patrick Hibbitts resurrected Bulkley Valley Taxi, they shut down operations again. The pair said the market was not strong enough to support their business.
Previously, Joyce Pottinger (the previous owner), closed the doors in January 2020, she cited an inability to find staff as her main reason for stepping away.
During the absence of service, people have been stuck at the airports, or in town needing to get to the airport, people have been dropped off at the Via rail station without a ride or even direction (with the building locked), and some companies are sending their workers to Terrace, because they have no way to get around for work.
Surprisingly, there has been an uptick in calls to both the RCMP and the Ambulance service from people needing safe rides home, to minor injuries who can’t get themselves to the hospital. Not surprisingly, there has been a rise in impaired driving because of the lack of services.
“Conferences will not book in Smithers,” Chamber of Commerce manager Sheena Miller told the group.
“We cannot say to a potential conference, bring 400 people to town, but we cannot get them around,” Miller explained.
It was also pointed out to those present that vehicle rental companies are also experiencing shortages, contributing to the problem.
According to Will George, economic development officer for the Town of Smithers, Uber and Lyft are not allowed to be operated in northern B.C., but seven other ridesharing-type services have been approved, although none are operational.
Licencing and insurance costs are two of the biggest limiting factors to any kind of ride service in the valley. Combined with the on-and-off nature of the needs in the community for rides means a 24-hour taxi or ridesharing company is not sustainable at this time, under the current operating models.
Kim Martin and her husband run Alpine Industrial and Hotshot Transportation service, and she explained the red tape and paperwork for transportation services are “monstrous and cost prohibitive.”
In discussing the multi-faceted problem, any immediate solutions were not apparent.
A task force idea was brought up for all of the businesses and stakeholders present to discuss the options, including combining all the many individual businesses that may use the service from time to time, with other groups in the community that need rides. These might include seniors groups, college students, and those needing rides to medical appointments, work, and safe rides home after a night out.
Since no one operator is able to shoulder all of the costs, spreading out the cost between users was discussed as an option.
Everyone in attendance agreed the status quo is not acceptable, and a solution of some kind is needed.
It was decided the Town of Smithers, the regional district, the stakeholders and economic development officer will look into some of the ideas brought forward, and seek other viable solutions and alternatives to make recommendations to council, and hold further public meetings to present findings.