Pilot service is a cross between a paddy wagon and an ambulance – that will get young people home safely.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  April 4, 2012  You can still see the geek in the guy as he talks about a pilot project that will help get the young rowdies off the street when Burlington`s downtown bars close at around two in the morning.  The service Scott Wallace of Burlington Taxi is developing is about as non-tech as you can get and is best described as something between a paddy wagon and an ambulance.

Scott Wallace, a software developer before he got into the taxi business – and there is a connection between the two – at least there was for Wallace, appeared before a Council committee asking the city to go along with him on a pilot project that would provide a service allowing young people who have had too much to drink to be able to drive, and perhaps not enough cash in their pocket to pay for a cab and not prepared to give the parents a call,

The 15 passenger van will serve as a cross between a paddy wagon and an ambulance and will charge $7 to get the rowdies home - safely.

The service that will run as a pilot from early May to late August will consist of two vans that can hold up to 15 passengers each.  One will make an eastern run while the other handles the western side of the city.  While the details are still being worked out,  the thinking is to have a couple of spots where young people can gather and know, that is where the van will be to drive them home.  The trip home will cost $7.

Something in the order of 300 people pour out onto the streets at 2:00 am – the challenge is to clear the area as quickly as possible which means getting them into vehicles they aren’t driving before they do any serious damage.

Getting those with too much beer in their belly`s off the streets of the downtown core has been a challenge.  Attempts to put this kind of a service in place during a previous administration at city hall didn’t get much past square one.  This Council seems quite prepared to encourage the pilot and listen to the proposal, which has the backing of the Restaurant Association and the Burlington Downtown Business Association.

Wallace is very quick to make the point that “this service is not THE solution to the problem – it is part of the solution, or at least he thinks so and he is prepared to put some time an energy into the idea.

Are there risks involved?  There certainly are.  The kids that will use this service may have been Boy Scouts or Girl

World headquarters for the 50 car + Burlington Taxi fleet. Gearing up to provide a service that will get the bar closing crowd home cheaply and safely.

Guides when they were younger but with far more beer in them than makes any sense they become noisy and tend to want to topple mail boxes and pull shrubs from front lawns – usually after trying to water the plants – if you know what I mean.

“For the most part they are decent kids – just out having their version of a good time and they have to be accommodated”, explains Wallace who lives in the downtown core and is often out for a walk late in the evening and is fully aware of how much noise this crowd creates.  He sees it as part of life in a city that has a part of town where there are bars and clubs.

Possible pick up spot for the bar closing crowd - they're open until 3 am Friday and Saturday.

The disruption created by these young people gets heard at Council committee meetings about once a month – the interesting thing is that no one mentions the one obvious and cost effective solution.  Put more police on the street walking a beat in the bar area.  There is nothing that settles a noisy, drunken youth down faster than a big beefy cop within sight.  It would take four officers walking a small area for a couple of hours to settle things.  Many people comment about the lack of adequate police service but that’s about as far as it goes.  Just talk.  Might the city of Burlington not petition the Regional Police Chief for more “feet on the street”?

Will there be bouncers in the vans ? – no says Wallace “but every vehicle has a camera that runs all the time as well as two way sound – so if there is a problem the action gets captured on video and the dispatcher knows instantly and is a button on a phone away from a call to the police.”

Burlington Taxi video footage has been used by Crown Prosecutors in the past – and, as Wallace puts it – some of these kids are not the brightest lights and they don’t realize how much technology we have going for us.

“This service isn’t going to be a money maker for us, says Wallace. “Some of my drivers would rather I didn’t put the vans out on the street – it would leave more of a passenger pool for them”.  Scott thinks the city need a service like this that gets kids out of the core quickly – in this case 15 at a time in each direction – that’s 30 kids that aren’t whooping it up on the streets.

“We are just a part of the solution” says Wallace.  “We need buses out on the street but the people at transit haven’t been able to meet this need” – bus service ends at 11:00 pm in Burlington.  Burlington Taxi feels it can meet part of the need.

Which is what Scott Wallace is really all about.  He talks about community service, social responsibility and adds “this is a great town”.  I’m doing my bit to keep it that way.

Wallace created, developed and then sold a software development company that focused on taxi dispatching and vehicle tracking.  “We’ve got GPS in every vehicle and software that allows us to log every trip and the revenue it produces which enables us to run a tight operation.”  That operation is a fleet of more than fifty cabs, most painted a bright yellow you can’t miss.

The bar crowd special - probably all cash fares but plastic is accepted.

Burlington is a little different than many cities in that it has just corporate taxi operations – there are no independent operators.  Wallace explains that a cab from Hamilton can drop off a fare but they aren’t supposed to pick up within Burlington and they don’t take calls from the city.  This corporate fleet approach gives the city tighter control over the taxi business – rates are approved by the city.

Wallace continues to go to taxi conventions and is in touch with the industry – knows where the new ideas are being tried out and what can and usually cannot work.  “People always want us to put more cabs on the street to meet those rush periods – but that doesn’t make economic sense.  While every car is not out on the road every hour – the objective is to keep every cab out for as long as possible.”

Scott Wallace is one of those people who arrived in Burlington before the age of ten and while he has been away for periods of time growing his career he has always come back and can’t understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else.

Wallace says: “We’ve done the research and we are pretty sure this will work.  We feel it’s certainly worth a pilot project.”   And we will know next week if city council sees it the same way.  Wallace got past the committee stage quite easily.




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