Garry Smith

Garry Smith

Nanaimo cab company marks 50 years

NANAIMO - Taxi company sees 50 years of technological change that allowed business diversify.

AC Taxi was just a few years old when Garry Smith bought into a cab partnership in 1974.

More than 42 years later, Smith, 62, is company president overseeing the company’s taxi and dispatching operations.

“I was going to school and I got told it was a good investment, so I bought one and drove it on weekends and I went to school and drove it some more,” Smith said. “I bought half a cab in ’74 and then bought more and more and more as time went by.”

In 1966 Allied Taxi and City Taxi companies combined to form AC Taxi, which celebrated its 50th anniversary yesterday.

There are now 41 regular cabs, plus three wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the fleet. Operators purchase the vehicles and pay AC Taxi fees for dispatching and maintenance services.

“AC Taxi’s basically a dispatch company now,” Smith said. “We own two cars. The rest of them are run by individual operators.”

Before AC Taxi moved its offices to Victoria Road in 2004, taxis lined up in front of the company’s little dispatch office on Commercial Street. With lots of ’round the clock, walk-in business from downtown shoppers and local bars and nightclub patrons, woe be to the motorist who inadvertently parked in a taxi parking slot.

Before 2005 taxis were dispatched via radio. Dispatchers kept track of cab locations by moving magnets around a map of the city. Customers paid fares with cash.

Automated dispatching revolutionized communication between dispatchers, cabs and customers. Digital communication is clear. GPS accurately locates fare destinations. New smartphone apps link cabs and customers and fares are paid via debit or credit cards on mobile payment systems.

But taxis still have radios.

“Every once in awhile the Internet goes down,” Smith said. “We’re dependent upon the Internet. Every taxi has a SIM chip in its meter to let us deal with the credit and debit cards … and it also gives us the GPS locations so we know where everybody is all the time.”

Automated dispatching also allows the company to provide dispatching services for its fleet plus Gabriola Island Taxi and Howe Sound Taxi in Squamish.

Automotive industry advancements, such as hybrid drive systems, helped drastically cut fuel costs too, Smith said.

Driving a taxi isn’t for everyone, but some drivers have stayed with the company 40 years or more and the flexible working hours can make it a good retirement job.

“We have a lot of 60- and 70-year-old people who drive, that are busy golfing and doing other things, and they just work part-time,” Smith said.