The news that Burgeo Taxi would stop providing service proved upsetting for many residents of the town of just under 1,300. Just before Christmas the taxi shut down and no other company has yet emerged to pick up the slack.
That means people with mobility issues, seniors, and those who regularly used the service have no other choice but to walk or find rides.
Sandra Billard works at Sou’West Seniors’ Center in Burgeo. She said many of the residents, who don’t have cars or family to drive them around, relied heavily on the regular taxi rides and are now feeling confined and isolated without it.
“The taxi was here at the seniors home every day, even two to three times a day,” she explained. “The taxi had a system, which offered a ride, including two to three stops, for ten dollars. After every ten trips the taxi company would also give a free ride. It was really great for seniors.”
Billard also noted residents living in part of town called Messieurs are also disadvantaged. The area used to be connected to the rest of Burgeo by the Messieurs Bridge until last December when it was washed away in a flood. The bridge offered a shortcut to the centre of Burgeo, a walk that now takes 30-40 minutes in a much less direct route.
Billard currently works with “a lady from Messieurs who now walks 40 mins to and from work every day, rain or shine.”
She continued: “It’s sad because there’s a lot of seniors who used to use the bridge who now have a long walk to get downtown.”
The lack of a taxi is also affecting Billard’s own social life.
“Me and my husband wanted to go to a dart party a couple of weeks ago,” she recalled. “Pouring down rain. I’m not walking from my place to the club. I stayed home.”
A grocery store in the town is providing delivery service for a fee but Billard believes seniors need to get out of their house for the social contact.
“They also have to get to appointments, go to the bank, the health care centre and such,” she added.
She is hoping someone else steps up to provide a service to fill the gap.
Bonnie Anderson, who oversaw some of the Burgeo taxi operation agreed with Billard, emphasizing the taxi is an essential service in the town.
“It also affects people from Ramea, Francois and Grey River as well,” she pointed out. “You get people coming over for doctor’s appointments and they’ve got to walk to the hospital for half an hour, maybe it’s a bad day. We’ve had calls in the middle of the night from people who needed to go to the hospital and we picked them up because our service was 24/7. We never turned off the phone, it was always on here. We also delivered for the restaurants and took (pharmaceutical) drugs to the ferries for delivery down the coast.”
Anderson said the two biggest factors that forced them to cancel the service were the high cost of insurance and the challenge of finding drivers who were willing to be available for the hours involved.
“Some days we wouldn’t get one call but still had to pay the driver,” she noted. “Between everything it was not even feasible to keep it going.”
Anderson said the decision to fold the taxi service was a tough one to make emotionally. “It’s saddens me greatly because a lot of people depended on us,” she said. “We had a lot of good customers. I think if our expenses hadn’t been so outrageous, things would have been a lot better. It’s sad when you see people walking who are not well and they have to go get things. A lot of those people don’t have computers or can do online banking. We thought long and hard about this, and we would love to have the taxi back again because it is really needed but I can’t see anybody picking it up because of the cost involved.”
Anderson’s boss, Craig Walters, who owned Burgeo Taxi, agreed that the decision was hard and regrettable, but necessary.
“You have your busy days and some days you’re only getting one to two calls and when you look at your gas, your wages, the cost of the vehicle, the maintenance, you’re just not making any money. Insurance alone was $3,600 to $4,000 per car, per year. It just wasn’t profitable.”
Walters still runs busses and a car to provide service between Burgeo and other towns. He said he is “willing to look at options at some point down the road. Right now, we’re just streamlining to get the business back to where it needs to be. Later on, we can look at it but right now we’re just streamlining.”