Photo Illustration by Nyssa Kuwahara
FRIDAY, MARCH 4, 2011
CANADA’S ONLY DAILY STUDENT NEWSPAPER • FOUNDED 1906
VOLUME 104, ISSUE 79
WWW.WESTERNGAZETTE.CA • @UWOGAZETTE
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One Saskatoon bandgot an unusual callfrom the music mag
The Business of Bandits
They’re illegal, unlicensed and potentially dangerous. They’realso filling a gap left in London’s lucrative taxi industry. Banditcabs are on the rise in London and city officials are starting to crack down.
takes a closer look at this illicit industry.
Bandits are roaming the streets of London. They’re lurking on Face-book, posting on Kijiji, advertisingon Craigslist. They’re handing outcards on Richmond Row. And theymight have driven you home onenight after the bar.London’s municipal governmentcalls them “bandit taxis” – illegalcabs unlicensed and unregulated bythe city.Last Friday, city officials laidcharges against an alleged bandit taxioperator in their ongoing fightagainst phony cabs. Bryan Leslie Lit-tleton, 28, is charged with advertisingand operating a cab without a licence.He now faces up to $730 in fines.Littleton is just one face of anunderground industry that posespotential dangers to passengers,says the city’s bylaw enforcementmanager, Orest Katolyk.“Should there be an accident, it’svery unlikely these vehicles are com-mercially insured,” he says. “So you’rebasically getting into a car where youhave no knowledge of the car [and]no knowledge of the driver.”Despite potential dangers, moreunlicensed taxis began hitting Lon-don’s streets about a year ago dur-ing the London Transit strike, in partthanks to the economic recession.But it’s a service that has long beena part of the local transit landscape –and even more so in tourism-centredcities like Ottawa and Niagara Falls.In late 2010, Niagara RegionalPolice completed a sting on anunderground cab company operat-ing in the area. Speedy DeliveryCourier owner Wayne R. Whitemanhad already been arrested in 2009and later pleaded guilty to breach-ing the city’s taxi licensing bylaws.Bradley Blaylock, a 17-year-oldNiagara Falls resident, has oftenused the popular – albeit under-ground – taxi service.“They do always ask you to sit inthe front with them and say, ‘Thisway it makes everything look nor-mal,’” he says, adding Speedy seems just as safe as taking an actual taxi.But Katolyk says it’s not as safe asit appears.The city has been tracking andordering bandit taxis as part of anongoing crackdown on these illegalservices.“The way we follow them isthrough various social media sites,”he says.City officials have encounteredabout a dozen since December 2009,Katolyk notes, but he says there areplenty more on the streets.In one instance, a car was fromthe early ‘90s – easily a dozen yearsolder than what the city permits as alicensed taxi, he says. Another bandittaxi was being operated by someone just released after a DUI conviction.But while city officials may befighting bandit taxis now, someargue the city actually fuelled thegrowth of this illicit industry.“The city’s own taxi regulationsare responsible for the bandit cabs,”says London resident Barry Wells,who used to operate an illegal taxi inthe ‘80s after being laid off from his job at a cab company.It all started with a city-mandat-ed freeze on the number of plates –those additional designations on theback of cabs that signify a taxilicence – back in the ‘70s, in order tocap the number of taxis on thestreets, Wells says.It’s basic business logic, heexplains — fewer taxis on the roadsmeans more business for the cabcompanies.But by limiting the number of taxiowner licences, plus allowing theplates to be transferred, the cost of plates on the so-called grey marketrun about $130,000, Wells adds.Basically, due to the population-based cap, there aren’t enoughlicences available to meet thedemand of those hoping to enter theindustry.Wells says this “archaic and feu-dalistic” system spawned the currentbandit cab industry.“There are only so many plateson the market, and there’s a demandfor these plates […] so people put avalue on [them],” Katolyk echoes.But you’re never going to get enoughtaxis in the market to bring thatdown to zero, he adds.Despite the steep licence cost intoday’s industry, Katolyk notes the yearly driver fee charged by the city
>> seeBANDIT pg.2
It was one of those situations whereyou’ve been wandering arounddowntown London for two hours try-ing to find a cab on a cold, busynight. A man in a van just pulled upnext to me and two other friends andasked if we were looking for a cab.We didn’t think twice about it.We were freezing and the girlswere walking around barefootbecause their heels were killing theirfeet so we just piled in. In hindsightwe probably should have been skep-tical of just hopping into a randomvehicle with a stranger — goesagainst everything my parents evertaught me — but when it’s -10degrees and you can’t feel your feet,push comes to shove.It was funny — we got to the des-tination and there was kind of an awk-ward silence. I asked, “So what do weowe you?” and he said sort of hesi-tantly, “…t-ten dollars?...” So it was tenbucks to take us from downtown Lon-don to near the university, which ismuch better than what you’d get withAboutown or U-Need-A, to be honest.
Associate EditorArden Zwelling tellshis story of taking abandit cab last year.
In our opinion,they’re directed atstudents from Westernand Fanshawe.
— Orest Katolyk
Bylaw Enforcement Manager