01/11/2017 18:51 EST | Updated 01/12/2018 00:12 EST

St. John's council prepares new proposals for taxi screening

St. John's city council is preparing to discuss another proposal to enhance the screening of taxi drivers.

Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth says the city is now asking the provincial government to add criminal background checks and vulnerable sector checks to the existing Class 4 taxi licence.

According to Ellsworth, the city would remain responsible for the taxi companies that employ those behind the wheel.

"The province would penalize the individual driver, and we would penalize the licensee and the taxi stand, through our bylaws," Ellsworth said.

The province had previously rejected a proposal from the city to create an entirely new class of licence for taxi drivers.

  • Province puts brakes on request for new taxi licences, steers issue back to St. John's council
  • CBC INVESTIGATES | Ron Ellsworth wants province to create new class of taxi licence with background checks

Ellsworth noted that this revised plan would involve just "beefing up" the existing licence, and stressed the importance of co-operation.

"This has got to be a team approach," the deputy mayor said. "This is not us blaming the province, or the province blaming us."

Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary told CBC News that there is a "strong consensus" among those involved that the provincial government would be the most effective avenue for regulation.

'We do need to make sure that everybody is safe, especially when we are dealing with a vulnerable population.'- Sheilagh O'Leary

She stressed many good ideas have come forward in recent weeks, including proposals from within the industry.

"This is not a blanket statement of the quality of the cab drivers that are out there," O'Leary said.

"But the reality is we do need to make sure that everybody is safe, especially when we are dealing with a vulnerable population."

O'Leary added that any provincial solution would apply to all of Newfoundland and Labrador, not just the capital city.

Closed-door meeting at city hall

Nearly two dozen people — members of the public, the industry and interest groups — were invited to city hall for a closed-door meeting Wednesday.

They were given a chance to voice their concerns, and hear what the city is doing to address them.

The meeting is the latest in a flurry of activity generated in the wake of a CBC News investigation into the St. John's taxi industry..

  • CBC INVESTIGATES | Who's driving your cab? St. John's taxi trade put to the test
  • CBC INVESTIGATES | No criminal background check, no worries: How I became a City Wide Taxi driver

That CBC investigation found significant gaps in regulations, and questioned who is in charge of overseeing drivers.

Screening is essentially left to the industry itself.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Bill Janes wrote the city last summer to flag his concerns.

"We saw there was potentially a gap there that people who had the authority to make the changes should have a look at," Janes told CBC News in an interview Wednesday.

The chief gave a presentation to the meeting "to share with them what we see as the risk areas, in terms of the importance of having taxi drivers having background checks."

Janes said that vulnerable sector checks can provide information about criminal records, pardons for sex offences, and the types of investigations the subject of the review may be under.

"If you're going to be given the care of children and people who are visually impaired, and elders, and people who are impaired ... there's some expectation that you be a trusted person."

He said no amount of screening will be perfect, but vulnerable sector checks can help provide peace of mind.

"I think it's important for people to feel safe and it's as important for people, as much as possible, to be safe. Even with the background checks, none of these are perfect ... but at least it's some check and balance."

'There's going to be changes made'

After the meeting, there did seem to be agreement that something will happen.

"Obviously, there's going to be changes made to the industry," Jiffy Cabs fleet manager George Murphy said.

'We want to ensure that whatever service is being offered by taxi drivers … that we're doing the best that can be possibly done.'- Linda Ross

"How long they're going to take, I don't know. We don't know. But anything that's positive for the industry, sure, we're all for it."

Linda Ross, president of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said changes would be welcome.

"There's certainly a number of improvements that can be made," she said.

"We want to ensure that whatever service is being offered by taxi drivers in the province, that we're doing the best that can be possibly done."

The city is meeting with the province later this month to discuss its latest proposal.