Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Without a taxi, visitors hitchhike


May 13, 2010

Sharon and Gregory Belisle of Whitehorse, Y.T., have been coming to Haines about 15 years, often on a cabin cruiser they keep in Skagway. Last week, their boat’s steering went out in Lynn Canal, and they limped into the harbor to make repairs.

But with no local cab service, the Belisles were left hauling heavy pipe from a lumberyard. Then Gregory became ill, and Sharon had no way to get her husband to the ferry terminal to take him to Skagway for a meet-up with family.

"You guys need a taxi. You really do. This is really inconvenient, although everyone has been really nice. You used to have a taxi and the Other Guys. Now you have nobody," Belisle said in an interview this week.

Ferry terminal worker Angelina Howard said there are typically between three and 10 inquiries about taxi service from disembarking passengers each time a ferry arrives.

"We have people come up to the window (and) we tell them, ‘People will pick you up if you put your thumb out.’ It’s sad. For the size of town we are, we should look into somebody setting up a taxi company at a reasonable price."

The last taxi operated here about a year ago. The town is entering its second summer tourist season without cab service.

Angie Robinson, visitor information coordinator for the Haines Borough, said lack of a taxi has been an issue for some visitors.

"A few people expressed some frustration because they arrived and then realized there was no taxi (and) some older people have expressed concerns like, ‘How do I get to Haines with all of my luggage?’"

"I just tell them to ask around. People will usually give you a ride. And it never hurts to stick your thumb out," Robinson said. "They usually find alternative ways in from the ferry. They just have to be creative."

Rental cars and inns typically provide courtesy service to town from the ferry terminal or airport, she said.

Judy Heinmiller and Greg Johnson hold seats on the borough’s tourism advisory board. When interviewed this week, neither was aware there was no taxi service available here. The topic hasn’t come up at the group’s meetings, they said.

"I can’t imagine nobody’s picked up on that. I’m sort of surprised," Heinmiller said. "I’d certainly say there’s a need for it." She said her brother recently gave a newly arrived Swedish family a ride into town. Now she’s wondering how they got back out.

Heinmiller said she has noticed that more regional visitors who come to town for the beer festival and state fair are on bicycles.

Three or four taxi companies have come and gone in the past 20 years, including some that offered discounts for longer rides. One company that operated in recent years was often criticized for usurious rates, prompting a borough assembly discussion of possibly regulating the taxi business.

The owner previously said the rates were commensurate with the cost of running the operation, which included late-night hours, drunken customers and no guarantee of business.

Ferry worker Howard, who drove taxi in Juneau, said meters and borough regulation may be the only way to make cab service work here. Meters standardize rates, providing assurance for both riders and cabbies.

Heinmiller said long hours may factor into lack of service. "Can you imagine waking up at three in the morning," to meet a ferry? she said. "You’ve got to be pretty hungry, and apparently nobody’s that hungry."



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