Airport taxi drivers say no fare

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on October 5, 2009
Passengers place their luggage aboard a City Wide cab Sunday night at the St. Johns International Airport. City Wide Taxi didnt renew an exclusive contract for cars at the airport. Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The five orange City Wide cabs lined up in front of the airport terminal Saturday afternoon belie the true confusion for taxi service at the airport.

The end of an exclusive contract for City Wide cars at the airport actually might mean cheaper prices for travellers, but among drivers in front of the terminal, there are rumblings that during peak times it will be difficult to get a ride from the airport to a hotel.

The five orange City Wide cabs lined up in front of the airport terminal Saturday afternoon belie the true confusion for taxi service at the airport.

The end of an exclusive contract for City Wide cars at the airport actually might mean cheaper prices for travellers, but among drivers in front of the terminal, there are rumblings that during peak times it will be difficult to get a ride from the airport to a hotel.

Airport spokeswoman Marie Manning said the St. John's Airport Authority put out a call for tenders for the contract, which expired Sept. 30.

"We didn't receive any tenders," she said.

"(City Wide) were not interested in renewing, and so we are now operating on an open system."

What that means is now any cab company can get in line at the airport, and when they take passengers into the city, they have to charge whatever is on the meter.

Manning said it was "exactly" the same contract as before, and City Wide simply wasn't interested in renewing.

City Wide owner Peter Gulliver was out of town and unavailable to comment, but cab drivers at the airport told a very different story.

"The airport authority wanted more money, they wanted a dispatcher out here 24 hours a day," said driver Pearce Gulliver, adding he'd also heard the airport wanted to stipulate all vehicles had to be 2004 models or newer and other requirements.

In the meantime, while the system is open to any taxi company, there don't seem to be many takers.

On Saturday, out of a line of eight cars, seven were City Wide, and one was from Bugden's.

Gulliver said given the meter rate, it's not worth hanging around at the airport for a fare, because the flat rates charged under the exclusive contract were much higher.

In some cases, they were double what a meter rate might have been, to justify a cab driver waiting around for a long time.

A run from the airport to the nearby Comfort Inn would be a flat rate of $10, when the meter rate on that run would only be around $4.

Gulliver said a run to the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland would be a flat rate of $22.50, plus $2.50 for each additional passenger, whereas it would only cost $16-$17 by the meter no matter how many people were in the car.

Manning said the open system would happen "in the short term until we have a long-term strategy in place" and the airport is monitoring the situation to make sure passengers have easy access to taxis.

Under the old contract, City Wide committed to having cars at the terminal, and there was a dispatcher who was typically working from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m., and could call more cars in as needed.

Now, Gulliver said he'd likely make more money working in town, where he won't have to wait as long for a fare.

"I just won't come in here and wait," he said.

"I'm not coming in and waiting for an hour and getting someone coming in and going to the Airport Inn for four dollars when you can go out in town and make the same," Gulliver said.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com