Two northern B.C. business owners think they’ve got the model for returning and sustaining a taxi service in the Bulkley Valley.
When BV Taxi turned off the meters Jan. 31, it left a void that Paddy Hirshfield and Patrick Hibbitts knew had to be filled.
“We saw the opportunity in Smithers and we felt like this is something the community really needed, we heard that quite a bit and so we went for the opportunity and so far the reception in Smithers has been very positive; people are really looking forward to getting this back,” he said.
“To come to a beautiful place like this then no be able to get where you need to go is a problem we want to fix.”
The two have been working on a deal to take over BV Taxi since March and last week approval and licences came through from the passenger transportation branch. COVID-19 slowed down the process a bit, he said, but if all goes well with their hiring process, they hope to be taking fares by mid-August.
Hirshfield acknowledged it was hiring, and, perhaps more importantly, retaining drivers that forced Joyce Pottinger to finally shut down the service on Jan. 31 after years of frustration, but the two new owners are confident they’ve got that worked out.
“First and foremost, I think focussing on the employees is important, so we’re offering a living wage with a great benefits package — with health, dental and RRSP matching and three weeks [paid] holidays to start,” he said.
They’re not worried about being able to find people with the required Class 4 licence.
“There’s more than you think, people who have participated with any kind of team events have that type of licence,” he said, adding they will help prospective drivers get the licence if they have to.
They are outfitting the company with the latest technology, which includes three new vehicles, online booking, debit machines in the cabs and an app that shows passengers the location of drivers and estimated arrival time. They believe these measures will give them the efficiency and safety they need to sustain the business.
Finally, he feels like their backgrounds give them a leg up.
“Patrick’s from the north as well, we both went to the UNBC (University of Northern British Columbia) MBA (Master of Business Administration) program a number of years ago, so we feel that we understand the northern market pretty good,” he said.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic not only slowed down the process of buying BV Taxi, but presents ongoing challenges, something Hirshfield said they are also ready for.
“We’re putting measures in place to manage for COVID, so we’ll have a plexiglass barrier between the driver and the passengers,” he said. “Also, because we’re operating vans we’re going to be able to offer more in the way of physical distancing. We have requirements around sanitization after every trip and making sanitizer available to guests and providing masks to drivers is a big part of what we’re focussing on because we want people to feel safe and to be safe when using our service.”