VANCOUVER – If you’re feeling queasy, step away from the cab.
That’s the advice from taxi drivers across British Columbia after the province’s Passenger Transportation Board approved a new fee earlier this month.
It allows drivers and companies to charge a $75 fine — on top of the flag fare — to passengers who soil or damage the interior of a vehicle with bodily fluids or solids.
Drivers have always been permitted to charge for the cost of cleaning vomit, or any other nasty substance, from cabs, but the new rule sets a specific rate, giving cabbies and their companies more certainty about how to handle the sticky situation.
Few taxi drivers wanted to comment on the new fee Friday, some worried they would lose their jobs if they shared their opinion.
Vancouver taxi driver Amarjit Singh said he, like many cabbies, is familiar with the consequences that follow once a passenger vomits in a vehicle.
“Other people can’t sit in the cab,” he said. “It smells so bad sometimes.”
He said the resulting cleanup costs can vary widely depending on the cleaner and the extent of the damage.
Then there is also money lost for the time not working, he added.
“It’s fair for the drivers,” said Singh, referring to the fee. “Sometimes drivers lose their time.”
Singh, who often works days now, said the problem is much more prevalent for those who drive overnight, especially after the bars close.
Carolyn Bauer, the spokeswoman of the Vancouver Taxi Association, said most of the problems happen during Friday and Saturday nights, usually around Vancouver’s the entertainment district.
“It happens all the time,” said Bauer of sick passengers. “We’ve had not just throw-up in the taxi, we’ve had a lot worse.”
“We’ve had a few times where they’ve urinated and the car is down for two days because it needs to be completely disinfected,” she said.
“You can imagine what one in the morning is like — we’ve got about 18,000 kids out on the street,” said Bauer. “They’ve all had a good time drinking, and surely to goodness out of that 18,000 less than 10 per cent are going to get sick.”
Several cabbies waiting for passengers around Vancouver complained the fee was too low, because cleaning a cab can often cost $100 — not including the money lost while their cab is off the road.
Mohan Kang, president of the B.C. Taxi Association, said the charge is fair, because the Passenger Transportation Board has to make sure customers aren’t overcharged.
“Some of the drivers are asking for more,” said Kang. “But I think it is a fair amount to be objective of the drivers as well as the customers.”
The board, which is responsible for implementing the fixed fine, said it did so at the request of taxi drivers in the province.
“This was the fee that was requested by the Vancouver Taxi Association,” said Jan Broocke, the director of the Passenger Transportation Board. “It was at a June stakeholder meeting that the Vancouver Taxi Association put a request for the specific amount.”
“With a specified amount it’s clear — it’s unambiguous,” said Broocke. “If people soil a cab they should pay for it, and it’s a reasonable amount.”
The new fee in B.C. is one of several in the country.
Calgary City Council imposed a $100 charge passengers who vomit in vehicles earlier this week.
A $25 fee is charged in Toronto, after councillors approved it in February.