This is the second in a special investigative series into the taxi cab industry in Vancouver. Tonight CTV British Columbia's Lisa Rossington looks into the reasons why there is less supply than demand.

The taxi industry in Vancouver has no shortage of business, and the drivers know it, CTV British Columbia's Lisa Rossington has found.

Insp. Rollie Woods of the Vancouver police says drivers will choose who they serve.

"In an effort to suggest they are not available, they will leave their lights off and cherry pick their customers," he told CTV News.

The situation is potentially dangerous. People who cannot get a cab are left stranded alone at night, or worse - they could be driving home drunk.

"I'm sure they are," Woods said. "They are opting to drive rather than wait around. There's no alternative."

CTV's special cross-Canada investigation has found that when bars close in Vancouver, it takes about 30 times longer to get a cab than it does in other Canadian cities.

There are only 588 cabs for the more than 2 million people in Metro Vancouver.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon says he believes the city needs more cabs.

"I believe we need more cabs on the road," he said. "Just from my own experiences."

A condo boom in the downtown core and increased tourism in recent years has contributed to the city's growth.

There has been a 65 per cent increase in passengers arriving at Vancouver International Airport, and a nearly 100 per cent increase in visitors sailing in on cruise ships, according to a 2006 report by the passenger transportation board.

But prior to 2007, only 33 taxis were added to city's fleets in the past 17 years.

Paul Teichroeb of the city's licensing department admits the problem is partly the city's fault.

"Out there right now (the standard) is not where it should be," he said. "The wait times are way too long."

The city says taxi companies didn't apply for more cab licences and the city didn't follow up on the reasons why that might be.

But Tony Bullhar of the Vancouver Taxi Association says that isn't true.

Some believe the number of cabs in Vancouver are being kept artificially low so the cab companies can make more money -- and Falcon does agree with that view.

"I do think there is some truth to that, we should be honest about that," Falcon said. "Whenever you have a regulated system, that limits competition you inflate the value of the licences that are in the system."

A regulated system?

The current system includes four companies in the city: Yellow Cabs, BlackTop, McLures and Vancouver Taxi.

Obtaining one licence can be complicated -- but profitable.

Here's how it works:

  • A company gets a "vehicle for hire" licence at Vancouver city hall.
  • The company then applies for a provincial taxi licence from the passenger transportation board.
  • The licence costs just $150, and it lasts indefinitely. The taxi companies can resell to anyone within the company -- and if they do, they can sell it at a thousand times more than the original price.
  • Whoever buys them can then turn around and hire drivers to work for them.

Teichroeb says the reselling of licenses, at exorbitant prices, is actually happening.

"Individuals who purchase licenses tell us they are going for about half a million dollars, so it is happening," he said. "And we transfer those licences on a regular basis to the new owner, but we don't see the financial transaction."

But Bhullar says he doesn't know anything about licenses being resold at higher prices.

"I don't know what information you are talking about," he said. "That's absolutely untrue."

Dennis Day is the chair of the government's passenger transportation board, and CTV News asked Day whether he wonders why he does not get any taxi license applications.

"It's not really in our role to pursue that," he said. "Do I personally wonder why, sure, (but) as a board it's not something we are given a mandate to address."

There have been no individual taxi license applications to the city in the past four years.

Day admits the four cab companies are allowed to attend these hearings and oppose applications.

Bhullar said that more competition "would probably lead to chaos."

But the competition is happening regardless. A Burnaby cab driver out of his jurisdiction was seen by CTV News picking up a customer in Vancouver, which is against the law.

But with very few cabs on the streets, police are looking the other way.

"We won't do any enforcement because we are trying to get people out of here as fast as we can," Woods said.

The city says it is pushing companies to get 120 more cabs on the streets by 2010, but that is another two years - a long time to wait for anyone who needs a ride home.

For the full story, watch CTV British Columbia's Lisa Rossington on CTV News at Six.