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Taxi operator closure has ‘left a gap’ in local transportation services, says northern B.C. mayor

Some businesses in a northern B.C. town are being impacted by the closure of the only local taxi service provider three months ago.

In May, Paddy Hirshfield and Patrick Hibbitts said they would close Bulkley Valley Taxi as the market in Smithers — roughly halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert, and home to a little over 5,300 people — isn’t robust enough for them to continue operating.

That has left residents and visitors without taxis to and from the local airport, about 5.4 kilometres from downtown, a route that isn’t covered by B.C. Transit buses.

Daniela Bork, general manager of Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in the downtown area, says she has received cancellation requests from corporate customers who had booked business conferences for the fall.

Daniela Bork, general manager of Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge pictured here, says corporate customers have been cancelling bookings this fall due to the lack of taxis in the northern B.C. town. (Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge Smithers/Facebook)

“[They] cancelled their entire events due to the lack of transportation being able to get to and from the airport, but also transportation within the town,” Bork said, adding that many of them have decided to relocate their events to hotels in Terrace, about 200 kilometres west of Smithers.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Sunshine Inn General Manager Sharon Eastabrook said the absence of taxi services “is a major issue” that the town has been unable to resolve.

Trever Morris, president of the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce, told CBC News he has also heard of businesses being affected by the absence of taxis.

Rental car shortage

Transportation issues are further complicated by the shortage of rental cars, according to Al McCreary, chair of Tourism Smithers. 

He said the shortage of supply means rental cars need to be booked several weeks in advance.

Tourism Smithers chair Al McCreary says travellers at Smithers Regional Airport need to book rental cars several weeks in advance, as no taxis are available to take them downtown. (Smithers Airport)

He said Tourism Smithers has written to the town council about the lack of taxi services, and that he is meeting with councillors and local businesses to discuss solutions, including expanding the community-run shuttle service that currently serves seniors only.

“It’s important that they’re in the loop and that we work closely with them,” he said on CBC’s Daybreak North.

The issue isn’t new to Smithers however, according to Mayor Gladys Atrill. 

She says the closure of Bulkley Valley Taxi “has left a gap” in their transportation services, but that the town’s market is too small for taxi operators to sustain their business.

She says she has received the letter from Tourism Smithers, but there isn’t a timeline yet for a town council meeting to discuss solutions.

Meanwhile, she is asking local residents to consider offering rides to travellers who need to get to or from the airport.

“This is our combined reputation,” she said. “We all have to be in this game together.”

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