Wednesday, April 16, 1997

Overzealous regulators at city hall

City and town councils are forever returning to the taxi problem.

Not because there necessarily is a taxi problem, but because taxis are, along with dog licences and parking meters, among the few things over which municipal governments still have a fair amount of control.

Yellowknife city council has decided that now is the time to update the livery bylaw, the piece of local legislation governing cabbies and their vehicles. In of itself, this is not a bad idea, but we suspect some of the suggested changes have not been thought through carefully enough.

Why, for example, does anyone want to keep taxis more than five years old off our streets? Is there something about six-year-old cars we should know?

The laudable goal here is to ensure all taxis are safe and reliable. But the way to do that is to mandate regular -- say yearly -- inspections by a government agent. The proposed bylaw includes just a requirement. But it also sets an arbitrary age of retirement, an age that is unfair to those cab owners who know how to maintain their vehicles.

Since most of the taxis in Yellowknife have already served three years as police cruisers before being converted to the civilian use, a five-year limit would force taxi companies to buy new cars every two years. How many of us can afford to do that?

Last year, according to city records, only 17 per cent of the taxis on the road were younger than five years.

If city council is concerned about the physical appearance of the taxis, and the impression a less-than-pristine model might make on a tourist, perhaps it should remember that Yellowknife is still a frontier town in many ways.

The odd dint or scrape will hardly tarnish our reputation.

By the way, when was the last time Mayor Dave Lovell took a cab in New York City or Toronto? We can assure him that the taxis aren't in any better shape down there.

Those are just a few thoughts for city councillors to consider while they reconsider their proposed bylaw.

Safety concerns

Yellowknife RCMP say they will be turning more and more to their heavily-armed tactical Emergency Response Team in the battle against crime in this city, specifically the drug trade.

We agree that police safety is of utmost importance and we support the use of the special squad, along with expert intelligence and a dash of common sense.

However, while it is important for Mounties to not underestimate the nature of the threats they are up against, they must also guard against overestimation, especially when contemplating the use of machine guns, stun grenades and sniper equipment.

Users buy and pay

The cost of travelling for Yellowknifers went up last week when Edmonton International Airport introduced a user fee.

People travelling inside Alberta will pay $5 while travellers going out of province will be dinged $10. The airport promises to lift the fee once its $250 million expansion is done. That is difficult to believe.

Such user fees are becoming popular as government cuts budgets without cutting services. While the principle of user pay makes sense, the question then becomes: who decides how much taxpayers should be charged for using facilities their tax dollars paid for?