Pemberton is poised to lose its only taxi service next month.
Mark Hunter, owner of Pemberton Taxi, said he’s finally retiring after three decades, leaving the fate of both the taxi service and the bus that he runs between Pemberton and Mount Currie uncertain.
Over the years he’s helped the elderly and injured get to appointments or downtown to shop when they’re unable to drive, developed strong relationships with his Lil’wat Nation riders and, at least once, was sent down the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road to pick up some tourists who found themselves stranded.
“I’ve got a feeling I’m going to write a book,” Hunter said. “Some of the stories, people here would not believe what’s gone on over the years. Especially with the Pemberton airport, it’s been interesting calls from the airport (which also serves Whistler). I’ve been thinking about (retiring) for a few years, but now that I’ve turned 65, now’s the time for me to get out and enjoy life more. I’ve been at it for years, seven days a week basically — some days putting in 14 to 18 hours.”
While the taxi industry around the world has been deeply impacted by ride-sharing services like Uber in recent years, in B.C.’s small towns there are different, but equally difficult challenges to operating, he added.
“I have the best (ICBC) rates, but the basic for a taxi is $600 a month. ICBC says, ‘don’t drink and drive, call a taxi.’ Especially in a rural area, there’s no transit at night. It’s like, we should get the breaks… Everything in the last 30 years has gone up 300 per cent. I should be charging way more,” he said.
Even if ride-sharing services like Uber start up in the area, “they’ll be in the same situation,” he added. “Those drivers are going to have to make a living.”
Graham Turner, president of the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce, said he recently met with an Uber representative at the BC Chamber of Commerce AGM in Victoria and while he’s interested to see how that service could be received in the area, having the taxi service end is a loss to the community. “Any time we have one less amenity in town, it’s one less tick on the list if people are coming here to invest,” he said.
He’s also concerned about the fate of the bus from Mount Currie to Pemberton, which allows many Lil’wat Nation members to get to work in Pemberton, or carry on to Whistler and to come into town to shop. Hunter runs that bus as a contract with BC Transit and the Lil’wat Nation.
“I think about all the elders that get off the bus to do their banking and grocery shopping and it really saddens me,” Turner said. “They’re not going to be able to get into town and do what they need to do on a regular basis. I hope they get that sorted out.”
Ernest Armann, CAO with the Lil’wat Nation, said officials are meeting on Wednesday (June 14) and will discuss the issue. “We’re definitely concerned about the service because we do have members that utilize it on a regular basis,” he said. “Without having that transit run from here to Pemberton it will definitely create undue hardships for our people.”
Hunter also hopes to see the bus service continue. “They’ve got to keep it going,” he said. “It’s too important for the band members, especially with the new site, that’s a long way… I do get a lot more not just support, but appreciation (from the Lil’wat Nation). They really require it.”
While the local governments in the Sea to Sky corridor, along with the provincial government, are looking at introducing public transit to connect the corridor, it still remains to be seen when and how that could unfold.
In the meantime, Hunter said the shuttering of his business should serve as a warning for communities across the province. “It’s not only small communities, even in the city, the cost of living is getting so horrendous,” he said. “The service industry, employees can’t live on it.”