Randall Ziegenhagen of Texas had never written to a city council in his life — until his experience with the taxi service in Whistler.
"That's literally how bad it was," Ziegenhagen said.
"When we finally got a taxi to show up, it was great. They were really fast, great service, but getting them to actually get there was like the biggest ordeal ever."
Ziegenhagen's experience was one of miscommunications (taxis getting dispatched to the wrong address) and long wait times (en route to the Scandinave Spa where they missed their massage booking; an hour and 15 minutes on the way back to the village where they missed a dinner reservation; narrowly making their bus to the airport after an hour and 45 minutes waiting for a cab).
For Ziegenhagen, the stress isn't worth it when there are so many resorts closer to home.
"It's a fairly long distance to travel (from Texas), and it's quite difficult to actually get to Whistler, and then to get there and then have all these problems is basically a nightmare," he said.
Municipal Councillor Jack Crompton, general manager of Ridebooker and former owner of Resort Cabs, reached out to Ziegenhagen after council received his letter.
"The visitor experience of Whistler is very much a connected chain — when any piece of that chain is not world class, it impacts the rest of the experience," Crompton said.
"I am involved in transportation in my professional life because I believe that transportation is a vitally important piece of that service. We need to push hard to have world-class transportation so we offer world-class tourism experiences."
The seasonal nature of the resort makes consistently offering that world-class service a challenge, Crompton noted.
"It's a challenge that every sector has to struggle with, so the taxi industry is not unique," he said. "I heard complaints about the service that we offered, and my response was always to pursue, as hard as we could, opportunities to improve."
From a Resort Municipality of Whistler perspective, council can continue to work on housing, affordability and transportation infrastructure to make things easier, he added.
THE TAXIS RESPOND
The biggest problem facing Whistler's taxi companies is the same one plaguing many businesses in the resort — a lack of staff.
"We lost about 33 per cent of our drivers over the last six months," said Garri Parhar of Resort Cabs, adding that generally it wouldn't be too hard to replace them, but Whistler's housing crisis has made things tough.
Add to that the need for specialized Class 4 licenses and it becomes next to impossible to stay fully staffed.
"We're not like other jobs in Whistler where someone could come from overseas and start working in your company in a week, right? Even for a Canadian, it takes about a month, minimum, to get the license that you need, and for people that come from Australia it takes about four months," Parhar said.
"I've had 40 to 50 people come through my doors from September to November, but when it comes to getting those licenses... if you're coming up here for a year, you're not really going to spend one-to-four months trying to get the licenses you need."
The lack of drivers has hit Whistler Taxi, too, said owner Devinder Mann — the company currently has four or five cars off the road, which adds up to another two or three minutes of wait time per ride — but staffing is also an issue at the dispatch desk.
After one long-time dispatcher passed away and another left, Mann decided to outsource the call centre to a company in Calgary.
"The decision for taking the dispatch out of Whistler was primarily based on I did not want to put a rookie person on the chair. (This company), they have had experience with the dispatching, and they are accountable," Mann said.
"I think I would say, to be honest, I'm happier with the dispatch there, because I've got a lot more control because the calls are recorded. That's a huge thing, and anything they do, I see it on my end, because they have a pretty elaborative system, that anything happens, I can find out."
Some complaints from locals about the new dispatch may stem from a lack of familiarity, he added.
"My dispatchers used to greet them with their first name, just recognizing their voice, and now... they don't feel that warmth," he said. "And that is the only reason, otherwise they are getting their service, and anything new you start and you have some issues, but that's why we are here to help," he said.
Over the last four or five years Mann said he's received maybe 50 calls with similar problems to Ziegenhagen, and most of the time it's because of a miscommunication on both sides.
That said, if anyone has complaints about service Mann encouraged them to write down the taxi number and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But during Whistler's busy times, customers should expect a bit of a wait.
"There are never enough taxis in the town when there are hundreds of people looking for taxis and there are 64 taxis in Whistler," Mann said.
"And at that time, you can put 200 taxis in the town, and you will still have some angry customers, because they do not get the taxi in two minutes, now they are getting it in five minutes."
THE RISE OF RIDE-HAILING
But it will only be a matter of time before there is some added relief in the form of ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft.
A provincial all-party committee recently released a report containing 32 recommendations for regulating and offering the service in B.C.
"There was a variety of different issues that came up — we had 40 to 50 delegations as well as a number of papers submitted," said MLA Jordan Sturdy, who sat on the committee.
The recommendations put an emphasis on safety by requiring background checks, cashless transactions, vehicle inspections and more, Sturdy said, and the next step is for government to just get on with it.
"Overall, I don't think that there was anything there that wasn't already known, and frankly I think it's really up to government to just make the legislative changes that need to be made — I think there's six or seven pieces of legislation that need amendment — and then enable it," Sturdy said.
If the legislation is introduced in the fall sitting, ride hailing could be up and running in B.C. by 2019.
And the service could prove massively helpful for communities in the Sea to Sky.
"We don't have a cab company in Pemberton anymore, and I see other communities like Bowen Island, there's nothing," Sturdy said. "So I see that on Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights in Pemberton, there could be a good little business for somebody."
In terms of impacts to cab companies, Sturdy said there was discussion about allowing taxis certain leeway (like exclusive street hailing privileges, for example).
"In terms of impacts on the cab companies, I think the other jurisdictions demonstrate that there has ultimately been little impact on the cab companies, and in no circumstances we're aware of did any taxi companies disappear."
But for Ziegenhagen, at least, ride hailing may have come too late.
"Except for the skiing, which we were able to walk to, everything else got screwed up. Everything else," he said.
"I just hope you guys can figure this out. Because I would love to come back, but I will not be back until I've heard some kind of news that it's been resolved."