Transit workers across HRM have been on strike for a week. Photo: Adam Scotti

Citizen taxi drivers picking up speed

Municipality warns passengers may be taken for a ride

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Car owners looking to earn an extra buck during the transit strike are hoping you'll forget an age-old adage and accept a ride from a stranger.

Since the strike in Halifax began on Feb. 2, sites such as Kijiji have been exploding with ads offering rides around the city.

Some drivers, such as Jim Miller, are simply trying to help out in a tough situation that is leaving many people stranded. Miller put an ad on Kijiji offering rides along his daily routes from his home in Hammonds Plains to his work sites in Bedford and Tantallon for a reasonable price.

"$2.50...whatever the bus fare is - I think that would cover my gas but that's about it," Miller says.

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The transit strike has left Haligonians to find alternative means of getting around. Photo: Adam Scotti

He says he feels for people who are put out by the transit strike and just wants to lend a hand. He and his family have been affected by the strike but have made it work by rearranging their schedules.

Still, others are hoping to make a few dollars out of the transit standstill.

"I was offering people drives for free. If it's on my way, I don't mind picking two or three people up on the weekends," says Ahmad Mahmoud who also put an ad on Kijiji.

"And then after that, I was getting so much email... [I decided] I'll start charging people $5 to drive anywhere in the city," he says.

For $20, he'll even wait at the destination and drive you somewhere else.

And people are willing to pay. Three days after he put up his ad, he's given rides to roughly 15 people.

"I'm still getting emails...people want to go to the mall, people want to go to the hospital," Mahmoud says.

Pump the brakes

There is one problem with what Mahmoud is doing - it's illegal.

"Municipal bylaw states that anyone that is offering a vehicle-for-hire service must be licensed in accordance with the legislation," says Kevin Hindle, the regional co-ordinator for the Taxi Licensing Division in Halifax.

It's not illegal, however, to accept gas money for a route you're already taking, as Miller is doing.

To be legally allowed to transport passengers for money, a driver must meet a slew of requirements, including:

- proper licensing

- proper insurance

- criminal and driving record checks

- knowledge of streets and common attractions

A driver found in violation of these requirements could face fines of more than $1,000 and possibly have their vehicle impounded.

A passenger may face consequences as well. If a driver without proper liability insurance injures a passenger, the passenger would not be financially covered and would have to pay for their own medical expenses.

"We'd just like to put the message out there to the public that it's still their responsibility to make sure the vehicles they're getting in [are safe] for their own protection," says Hindle.

In addition to warning passengers, Hindle says they contact the drivers directly.

Like many with ride offers online, Mahmoud didn't know he was doing anything illegal.

"I was not aware. If I was aware, I wouldn't have done that," he says. "I'll take my ad down. I'm not looking for any trouble."

He hopes future employers will ignore his good intentions, since he hopes to one day become a legal taxi driver.

Desperate measures

However, some believe there should be some lenience on these bylaws.

"It could be waived on a temporary basis," suggests Miller.

"If we're in a citywide situation like this where the bylaws state that somebody cannot accept payment, then I think at critical times like this, that law should be waived. I don't think we have enough taxi drivers in the city of Halifax to meet the demand and personally I don't think most people could afford a taxi drive back and forth every day to work," he says. 

Negotiations between Metro Transit and its drivers broke down again early this morning, so the service disruption is likely to last at least a few more days.

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