Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart is once again calling for an end to the taxi monopoly in the Tri-Cities area and urging the province to quickly allow ride hailing services like Lyft and Uber after a local woman recounted a negative cab ride that left her feeling like a captive.
The taxi ride happened more than a week ago, but it wasn’t until Stewart wrote a post on social media titled “Held hostage by a taxi” that it started to get attention.
Gayle Hunter was taking a routine taxi ride from her home to Birchland Elementary School, where she works. Hunter, who doesn’t drive and lives with a disability that limits her mobility, said she always pays $7 for the trip, after the tip.
But, in her account, the driver failed to start the meter, and as she approached the school, she told the driver that technically, if he didn’t start the meter, she didn’t need to pay.
Hunter claims she was fully intending to pay the usual rate, but her comment sent the driver into a shouting rage.
Then, she said he turned away from her destination, despite her protest, and began to drive her in the wrong direction.
“It was essentially an altercation that resulted in her being driven against her will for some period of time, and it really angered me,” said Stewart.
“It frustrates me to no end, the length of time and the number of times we’ve had to speak with the Transportation Ministry, the Passenger Transportation Board and with this company about the behaviour of the drivers,” he said.
‘It was scary’
“Well it was, first of all, shocking, and then it was scary,” said Hunter. “It was scary. It was — and then it just made me really angry.”
Hunter said she phoned the company, Bel-Air Taxi, as the driver continued to refuse to take her to the school. She said she put the manager on speaker phone to have him tell the driver to take her to her intended destination — she says the driver continued shouting throughout.
Once Hunter got to Birchland elementary, she claims the troubling episode still didn’t end. She said the driver hurt her by aggressively ripping the cash out of her hand.
“When I got into the school, I was shaking, like I was a little — I went straight to the principal’s office,” she said. “Even today, I don’t feel safe getting into a cab.”
Hunter contacted Coquitlam RCMP to file a report, but doesn’t expect any criminal charges to arise from the incident. She also sent the company a written complaint, but said that she hasn’t heard anything back.
CBC News phoned and emailed Bel-Air Taxi for a comment, but nobody from the company replied to the request.
Manager Shawn Bowden told CTV News that he spoke to Hunter and apologized for the incident. He said the meter should have been turned on, but he added that, based on GPS records, the taxi didn’t deviate from the intended route to the school.
For both Stewart and Hunter, the incident is a reminder that, as a matter of safety and convenience, passengers need more choice when it comes to ride services in the Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.
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