Demand for bigger taxi vehicles launches city’s new cab company

A pair of young cab drivers believe they have found a new niche in Greater Victoria’s taxi market and have launched a fleet of bright-blue vehicles to prove it.

Paul Jey and Mandip Hari have started Uptown Taxi, a small firm that intends to make a big splash.

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The 27 year-old founders, who both worked at a rival cab company in the city, believe they are shaking things up, as they see a big market for their aqua-blue cabs that can handle more than four passengers — the norm in the industry.

Jey said they did months of research and found there were a lot of customers travelling in groups of five or six who would be forced to split themselves into two cabs. “A lot of taxi companies are not investing in larger vehicles because it’s more lucrative to split groups into two cars and the maintenance on vans is quite expensive,” said Jey.

Their research showed them groups of five or six, or others who required a larger vehicle were having to wait 45 minutes to an hour for service.

“So we thought why not bring in a bunch of vehicles specifically tailored to this niche,” Jey said, noting they found there was a need at Ogden Point when cruise ships were in port and for people with mobility issues.

The company, which launched quietly last summer, has three vehicles on the road with a fourth hitting the streets this month. They will add two more before the spring.

“All of our vehicles are six or seven passenger hybrid vehicles and we will soon have two wheelchair accessible vehicles,” Jey said.

Uptown wades into a market with 68 taxi companies — many are owner-operators who work for companies such as Bluebird or Victoria Taxi — and 281 vehicles, including 24 vehicles designed for those requiring wheelchair access.

Jey and Hari, who own the vehicles and hire drivers, know they are unlikely to be popular among the taxi fraternity. But Jey points out their research suggests “those companies were ignoring that part of the market.”

Hari said they have implemented a tough screening process for drivers, and generally will speak with 30 applicants to find the right fit. They intend to eventually have 12 drivers on staff.

Don Zurowski, chair of the Passenger Transportation Board which regulates and licences the taxi industry, said Uptown showed there was evidence of a public need for higher-capacity vehicles.

“The information they provided convinced the panel there was a need for that particular service,” he said.

The board requires applicants to prove there is a public need, that the business plan is based on sound economics and the licence holders are suitable.

Zurowski said over the last several years there has been a significant increase in the number of taxi licences in Victoria.

He said there are a variety of factors, including younger people without cars living in city centres, an aging population and population growth that have required better service.

In the last few years, the board has approved licences for Sidney Taxi to operate five vehicles, Orange Taxi to operate two vehicles in Sooke and the Westshore, while three biggest firms, Bluebird Cabs, Victoria Taxi and Yellow Cabs, now have authority to operate additional vehicles on weekend evenings and holidays.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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