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Cab shortage could hamper New Year's Eve fun – local business owners

By: Viola Pruss

  |  Posted: Friday, Dec 27, 2013 03:30 pm

DEMAND EXCEEDS SUPPLY – There aren't enough cabs in St. Albert to keep up with demand on busy nights like New Year's Eve, say local pub owners.
DEMAND EXCEEDS SUPPLY – There aren't enough cabs in St. Albert to keep up with demand on busy nights like New Year's Eve, say local pub owners.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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The holiday season is in full swing and with all the hype around New Year's Eve, it's expected that people will want to have a good time. Alcohol plays a big role in that celebration, which is good for business but bad for driving.

The latter especially worries those who run local pubs and bars. The number of available cabs on New Year's Eve is limited and drunk drivers are a concern, said Troy Marchak, owner of the Crown & Tower Pub.

"We are supposed to have everyone out of the bar by 3 a.m. but when people have called for cabs at midnight and they are still not there at 3 a.m. and it's minus 30, what do you do with these people?" he said.

"We don't want them to drive."

While he keeps a sign and courtesy phone near the entrance of his pub – suggesting to customers that they call the cab companies at least three hours in advance – Marchak said that doesn't guarantee the taxi will be available at the end of the night.

He doesn't want people to stand around in the cold either, he said, as they may decide to drive home on their own. But letting them wait in the foyer also costs him money, having to pay his staff to work longer hours, he said.

"They always say plan ahead, take a cab … that's all fine and dandy but if there isn't a cab to take, what are you supposed to do?" he said. "There are designated drivers but not everyone has one."

Law sets closing times

Under section 71 in the Gaming and Liquor Act, drinking establishments are expected to serve the last drink by 2 a.m., and have all customers leave by 3 a.m. Should a bar owner not obey these rules, a first offence can cost as much as $1,500 or lead to a six-day license suspension.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission is aware of the issue surrounding late-night cab services and therefore asks people to plan ahead and call for a taxi early, said spokesperson Jody Korchinski.

"As an organization we do recognize that this is complex," she said. "So certainly the AGLC inspector would be able to look at the circumstances and determine whether or not a penalty would be provided."

Billy McBain, owner of The Celtic Knot, said the lack of taxis during the holiday season is not a problem specific to St. Albert but happens in most cities across the country.

While he said there could always be more taxis available, he suggested that cab companies probably focus on the busiest spots in town first.

"Up until last year when I opened my business, at first it was really difficult for us and it's still difficult late at night when bad weather occurs," he said. "But we've been fortunate here because we're busy and the cabs go here."

Too many people, not enough cars

It's not a shortage of cabs but an accumulation of people, said Blair Logan, owner of St. Albert Taxi.

He agreed that taxi services across the Edmonton region struggle with picking up customers during the holiday season, simply because there are too many people out at once. Bad weather also hampers his drivers' ability to get around, he said.

"It's a time of year where you've got a population of 60,000 people with probably 80 per cent of them wanting cabs at once," he said. "You have 30 people waiting there and everyone says they called first."

Logan said he already employs all of his 13 taxis on New Year's Eve, plus a bus that can seat about 20 people. He's considered buying an extra car but said he can't add too many new cabs to his fleet since there is no business for them in the spring.

"I don't see a solution to the problem other than adding more cars on but then when it starts to slow down you've got to let people go," he said. "And they're not going to come for a month of employment."

Logan said there are about 30 cabs driving in the city and suggests that people reserve a taxi to pick them up at least half an hour before closing time.

He added that taxi companies often pick people up at the bars first instead of going to home addresses, because those people aren't waiting out in the cold.


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