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St. John's taxi owner says significant insurance hikes driving him and others out of industry

Imran Dar is struggling to keep his taxis on the road, with insurance hikes, a challenging economy and rising cost of living. He is asking the government to step in and help mitigate the rapid increases in costs for commercial taxis.
Imran Dar is struggling to keep his taxis on the road, with insurance hikes, a challenging economy and rising cost of living. He is asking the government to step in and help mitigate the rapid increases in costs for commercial taxis. - Ashley Fitzpatrick

Imran Dar’s is a face to know in the ongoing taxi insurance debates.

“Well, I’m not a handsome man,” he says with a laugh, when asked for a picture for the paper, after a short interview with The Telegram on Friday.

He agreed to the photo, with the assurance his story might help in understanding the realities of the small-broker taxi business, and small business as a whole right now.

He is a small businessman and part of a family injecting their entrepreneurial spirit in Newfoundland and Labrador.

What do the changes in insurance rates for taxis mean for him personally?

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“Last year it was $7,777 plus taxes. This time they have increased it about $1,000 more, plus taxes. It will be about $9,000 for one car. I have two cars with Bugden’s,” he said.

“That means for me I have to make $80 to $90 per day to pay the registration and insurance that is compulsory to run my business. So, if I don’t make $80 minimum for one car, that means I am out of the business.”

And that’s a significant problem right now. Drivers are reporting a general feeling of a slowdown in local calls for taxis — fewer people heading out to restaurants at night, less money in pocket allowing people to consider a cab versus a bus ride, even fewer workday snowstorms to encourage calls.

Dar said, for him, it’s a big-picture issue more than anything. It’s not just the rapid and significant increases in insurance charges — painful in their immediacy, as well as their degree (an 18.6 per cent increase took effect March 1).

There are related costs, the tax on insurance, even the extra few dollars for taxi registrations and increase in minimum wage for driver pay (he is driving himself and expects to drive more, concerned with the ability to bring in enough to employ drivers).

“It’s very difficult. It’s very difficult for me. I’m driving myself and I can hardly make $10 an hour,” he said. “You’re not making enough money.”

At home, pressures are increasing, with concerns such as rising power bills. And Dar said his taxi business, if he’s going to keep it, needs to provide more than just enough to pay the bills — a threshold it’s not reaching right now.

Can he keep going?

“If I think only this business? No. I have to borrow some money from my loving wife, who is running a restaurant, or my small corner store — if I’m not being robbed next year as well,” he said. “Maybe … for one year, maximum.”

The restaurant is the Shalimar Restaurant in downtown St. John’s and the store is Shalimar Convenience on Forest Road. At the store, as The Telegram reported in January, his family members and other staff have been subject to hold-ups, leaving him to question that business.

He doesn’t compare the physical risk, but financials, given the taxi insurance increases: “I’m being robbed on all sides,” he said, before issuing a basic request.

“Insurance should be realistic. It should be lowered down. You have to compare it to other provinces as well and how well they’re doing. … It should be reasonable,” he said.

“That is the only way we can survive here.”

Based on where things stand, he is currently considering selling out to a bigger broker and leaving the taxi industry. Then would be the question of what comes next.

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