Vancouver cabs are the most expensive and hardest to get of any major city in the country, says a searing new report into the province’s byzantine taxi system.

And it won’t change until something is done about the red tape standing in the way of new cab companies from getting into the business, according to the master’s thesis from Simon Fraser University graduate Benn Proctor.

“You have this system of waste. It wastes our time, it wastes the drivers’ time,” Proctor told CTV News. “It’s awful. Maybe the worst in Canada.”

Proctor found the cost of a 10-kilometre fare to be highest in Vancouver, at $22. That's compared to $17 in Winnipeg, $18 in Calgary and $20 in Toronto.

But the biggest surprises came in the number of cabs per person. There are more than twice as many cabs per person in Calgary than in Metro Vancouver. And the City of Vancouver is even farther behind, with just one-fifth as many cabs per person as the Alberta city.

There are about 1,500 cabs in Metro Vancouver, and just under 600 cabs in Vancouver itself

If the City of Vancouver was going to catch up to Calgary’s ratios of cabs per person, it would need 322 more cabs, according to Proctor. If Metro Vancouver were to have Calgary’s ratios, it would need 1900 more cabs.

Compounding the supply problem: cabs can’t pick up fares outside their city of origin. That means if a Burnaby cab brings a passenger from Burnaby to Vancouver, it can’t pick up another passenger on the way back.

There’s a bright spot for riders: this week the B.C. Court of Appeal allowed the provincial taxi regulator, the Passenger Transportation Board, to grant 38 new licenses for weekends in Vancouver.

Those 38 licenses were given to cab companies outside Vancouver to handle the huge peak period over the weekends, when partiers downtown need to get home. Vancouver taxi companies challenged the ruling to keep suburban companies off their turf.

But it’s not clear whether those 38 licenses will turn into 38 cabs on the street, because the City of Vancouver also has to license the cabs – and there’s no guarantee of that, said Vancouver city councilor Geoff Meggs.

“That’s a question that only council can answer,” he said, urging caution before there’s any change to the regulations. “If there’s an unthinking change it could drain cabs out of municipalities that don’t have a lot to begin with.”

Meggs said the city is trying to bring on 78 new wheelchair accessible cabs, which could help with the shortage.

The chair of the Passenger Transportation Board, Don Zurowski, told CTV News that the agency stood by its decision to grant 38 new licenses and was proud it had withstood the court challenge.

He said the agency was open to more flexibility in allowing cabs to cross boundaries, but said it would depend on the application.

“We say yes to that sort of thing provincially on a fairly regular basis. When there’s a unique temporary demand. We’re inclined to say yes to those types of requests,” he said.

A side effect of the system is that limited supply of cabs is driving up the price: right now, a Vancouver cab license costs some $800,000 in the grey market. That’s high compared to other cities, such as Winnipeg, where a license goes for about $280,000, and Ottawa, where it goes for about $185,000.

The high cost is eventually passed on to customers, who pay higher fares, Proctor said.

If the red tape was removed, the market could dictate how many cabs Vancouver could support, just as in any other business, he said.

“We should have strict background checks and criminal record checks. We should make sure the cabs are safe,” Proctor said. “But we shouldn’t be saying one person’s business is okay but another person can’t start a business. We let the market decide, and we let customers choose who is operating the best taxi service.”

“That’s a big leap, but it would be the most efficient for B.C. society,” he said.