By Miriam Ostermann, Associate Editor
Disappointment and disbelief were at the forefront of last week’s council meeting, when the town faced an ultimatum from a local cab company which threatened to close up shop following the addition of a mandatory first aid certificate requirement to the current taxi bylaw.
Despite efforts by council and administration to address liability concerns, discuss best practices, and lessen the financial burden by offering in-house standard first aid training for a reduced price of $50 while waiving the $50 driver permit fee in 2018, Strathmore Shuttle owner and operator Brenda Jan remained steadfast in her stance to close her doors and halt all cabs on Jan. 31.
While Jan was unable to provide council with a reason why her business won’t accept the changes, other than her drivers don’t want to take the first aid training, council was left crestfallen at the response.
“I’m actually stunned that we’re in this situation,” said Mayor Pat Fule in addressing Jan. “We’re just saying to have first aid would be safer and better for the typical resident who takes a ride with (the) cab driver. One of the things that concerns me, it feels to me, as far as the taxi drivers and the company is concerned, that the tail is wagging the dog. What concerns me is why are the drivers holding you hostage by saying they’re not going to get first aid, when it’s a wash? Nobody has to pay anything.”
The issue of the requirement by taxi drivers to hold a valid first aid certificate was brought before council on Jan. 10, when administration was directed to bring back information about the liability risk exposure to taxi drivers.
The Emergency Medical Aid Act – the former Good Samaritans Act – states that a physician, registered health discipline members, registered nurse or other person is not liable for damages for injuries to or the death of that person alleged to have been caused by an act or omission on his or her part in rendering the medical services or first aid assistance, unless it is established that the injuries or death were caused by gross negligence on his or her part.
The act goes on to say that subject to some restrictions, people cannot be sued when they stop to assist at an accident or other emergency to provide first aid type care. Thus far the act has been upheld 100 per cent of the time in court.
Strathmore became one of the first municipalities to recognize the need for first aid in the Taxi Bylaw 16-14 last week, in comparison to other municipalities’ taxi, livery and limousine bylaws.
Yet Jan told council her drivers have responsibilities to their customers and can’t stop the vehicle due to an emergency outside the vehicle. She added that none of her drivers were in favour of the requirement, and since the bylaw doesn’t enforce someone with the training to use it in an emergency, they find it unnecessary.
“See it goes back to Alberta Transportation; it says in there if I have a customer in my vehicle, which I do most of the time, I can’t stop to help somebody, and if I have a customer waiting for a cab I can’t stop – I have to go get that customer,” said Jan, a statement with which many councillors disagreed. “I have responsibilities to get these people to work and to school, I can’t be stopping ‘oh a lady fell.’ My drivers don’t want that certificate; they don’t want it at all. I don’t have anybody, so I’m done.”
Council reassured Jan her drivers were not expected to pull over and assist in an emergency; rather, the training is to provide knowledge and training when a medical emergency exists within the vehicle and to the passengers.
Administration asked council to uphold the current requirements of the taxi bylaw and support three amendments: to provide all taxi drivers working for companies and brokers registered in the Town of Strathmore an in-house standard first aid/ CPR training course at the cost of $50 per person, and certification which lasts three years; upon successful completion of the course each driver will have their driver permit waived in 2018; and a one-time extension to meet the requirements of the taxi bylaw from Jan. 31 to Feb. 23 of this year, drivers must show proof of standard first aid to comply or a scheduled date for course completion.
Councillor Jason Montgomery said the situation was unfortunate, and that council and administration were trying to work with the taxi company and giving the issue sufficient consideration. Councillor Bob Sobol also voiced his opinion.
“A lot of people take first aid … in case one of their children or grandchildren suffers an injury and they know what to do. Maybe your drivers should think about that. There’s a bigger picture here, they have to stop looking at themselves and start looking at other people,” said Sobol.
“You already said if you’re driving by and a woman is lying on the ground you aren’t stopping. That is a very, very sad comment, and if that is the attitude of them, maybe it’s good you leave because you’re not helping our community. We’ve given you an opportunity to work with us and to improve your service, and it’s very sad that you don’t want to take advantage of it.”
By waiving the driver permit fee and offering the in-house training at a low cost, each driver would be looking at $230 in savings this year. Strathmore Shuttle is one of three taxi companies in Strathmore, the other being Strathmore Taxi and Economy Taxi – both owned by Martin DePeuter who was unavailable for comment.
At the meeting, council recognized the need for the service within the community, especially in the transportation of seniors and youth. While Councillor Denise Peterson said she would usually not vote in favour of legislature of this nature, she was able to justify the regulation by stating that by balancing the legislation with the welfare of society seemed fair. Peterson also praised Jan for the service the company provides to the community and hoped that Strathmore Shuttle would continue to work with the town.
Councillor Lorraine Bauer, though, took issue with the drivers’ apparent lack of interest in obtaining the first aid training.
“I am beyond disappointed in hearing you speak today. We’re meeting for the third time, we’re going over best practices, what we believe to be a good opportunity for your drivers to raise the standards because you are transporting vulnerable populations,” Bauer said. “You’re dealing with young students and I know that you deal with special needs students as well. I know that you pick up older people, people that are over the age of your drivers. I believe that this is a step forward for our town in supporting this bylaw and saying that yes, we do support that you should have first aid, not only to protect yourself but to protect our population of residents here.”
Council voted unanimously to uphold the current requirements of the taxi bylaw and to the recommendations made by administration, with the addition of a first aid certification grace period.
The town will continue offering a reduced price for in-house first aid training any year that drivers are required to take the course. Councillors questioned the possibility of having a training course twice a year, or every six months. Wrinkles, administration said, could be ironed out on a later date. Administration also informed council that refusal to comply with the bylaw could result in a fine, refusal of permits or revoking permits.
A review of the bylaw took place in 2015, and states that taxi drivers must pass a vehicle inspection, have a criminal record check, and obtain a basic first aid certificate.
“The taxi bylaw has been in place for a year which has given taxi companies ample time to ready their businesses,” said Fule. “The main things we’re addressing are mechanically inspected, clean and smoke free taxis, with permanent decaling for rider safety. We have also included a basic first aid requirement for drives. But again, the companies have had a year to implement this.”
None of the existing taxi companies had renewed their permits as of Jan. 31. The town was also approached by several new businesses showing interest in setting up shop.
According to the Municipal Government Act, municipalities have powers to maintain responsible service for safe public and private transportation.
Councillor Jason Montgomery asked Jan to abstain from making a rash decision, give the situation some thought, talk to the drivers and continue working together.
In response Jan replied the town wasn’t working with her company or employees – which she has referred to as family – and once more repeated “we’re done” before leaving council chambers.