With the Metrobus Transit strike well past the two-month mark, management’s latest move is selling discounted taxi vouchers.
Metrobus announced Friday it will begin selling taxi chits to transit customers at a 50 per cent discount. General manager Judy Powell said details of the deal are still being worked out, including which taxi companies will be taking part, and how many vouchers will be for sale.
“They will be a predetermined amount, and we will be selling them to our customers at half-price,” she said.
“So, essentially, if a taxi fare costs $15, for example, the customer would pay $15 but use their taxi chits which they got for half-price, so essentially it would be a $7.50 fare.”
Metrobus will start selling the chits Wednesday through its online store at www.metrobus.com or over the phone at 722-9400.
Powell said the company will buy vouchers from taxi companies at full price, adding that Metrobus is initiating the program to ease the financial burden of people affected by the transit strike.
“Metrobus is doing it in an attempt to provide some financial relief to our passengers who are experiencing difficulty during this strike,” she said. “We’ve heard from our customers, we know how difficult this has been for them and we want to help with this financial hardship.”
But the organizer of a noon-time strike rally Friday laughed at Metrobus’s taxi-chit program.
“We don’t want anymore Band-Aid solutions or half-assed attempts,” he said. “The major question is what is the problem with asking the province to introduce (binding arbitration)? Precedence has shown in the past that even the announcement of legislation will force both sides into binding arbitration. What’s wrong with binding arbitration? It just seems like there’s a disconnect between the province and the city, like there’s a gag order that’s been put out, like no one’s allowed to talk about this.”
He said he didn’t think the vouchers would be much help.
“A half-price voucher on a cab from Mount Pearl to a downtown event, that breaks it down from $50 to $25 round-trip, as opposed to a $5 bus ride,” he said. “For people who are on social assistance, I’m not sure that’s going to help.”
Powell disagreed with the suggestion that the move might prolong the strike by making it easier for people to take taxis.
“I don’t believe that that will be the case. For us it’s about relieving some of the financial hardship,” she said. “It certainly doesn’t replace the bus system, and we know it’s not a perfect solution.”
Powell also acknowledged that it will be impossible to ensure the chits go just to bus users and not to residents who just want half-price taxi vouchers.
“There will be some things put in place, but it’s not going to be a perfect system,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to guarantee that it’s all bus users that get them, because of course a number of our bus users are cash users.”
Amalgamated Transit Union spokesman Paul Churchill declined to comment on Metrobus’s decision.
“I don’t know what the details of it are, because they weren’t clear on the details. So I’ve really got no comment at this time, until I know what the details are,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tom Hann, city councillor and chairman of the St. John’s Transportation Commission, said the city is adjusting snow-clearing to reflect the Metrobus strike.
“Due to the Metrobus strike and the fact that we have an increased number of residents walking, I’ve asked city staff to put an extra effort in sidewalk snow-clearing in areas where we do clear sidewalks,” he said, noting when crews have finished clearing the streets, available personnel and equipment will join dedicated sidewalk-clearing crews. “That would be in high-traffic areas, near city schools, that kind of thing.”