Saturday, September 22, 2007

The little differences make things interesting...

Inspired by a post about a taxi strike from my cousin Liana's website I thought I'd add a post about the way the taxi system here in northern Canada works. Now taxi's are an interesting topic in many places. In Toronto and Vancouver many of the taxi drivers are well educated imigrants to Canada. I've met doctors from India, engineers from Iran, and professors from Lybia all making a living behind the wheel. One of the tragadies of the Canadian immigration system is that with one hand it welcomes highly educated newcomers to Canada, while the other hand blocks them from working in the professions in which they are educated. Meaningful routes towards having their professional qualifications assessed, updated and recognized here in Canada being very limited.

Here in Iqaluit the cabs drivers mainly hail from Quebec. Many are French Canadians by heritage, while others are immigrants first to Quebec, and later further north in search of opportunities. They are an interesting, and cosmopolitian bunch. They'll point out the sights along the way, tell you which dogs are causing problems, and generally give you the gossip of the town.

Cabs in the south are bright and shiny. Many cities have bylaws that mandate cabs be no more than a couple of years old. They are also mini fortresses on wheels, the front and back seats divided by bullet proof glass, a camera trained on the back seat, a meter glowing with red numbers letting you know how far you've travelled and what you owe and a GPS screen to guide the driver. There are rules about when the cab must run the AC and what music they can have playing.

By contrast a cab in Iqaluit can seemingly be any vehicle as long as it has a sign on top from one of the local companies. The vehicle can also be of any age, and since the cabs are often run around the clock some of the vehicles have their share of wear and tear. There are no dividers, no meters, and only a CB that tells the driver where the next call waits for them. A ride anywhere in town (or to the adjecent town of Apex) costs $6 per person no matter how long or short the journey. The cab may stop to pick up others along the way, and may make detours that seem random, but bring them by high pick-up areas hoping for an extra fare on the way to your final destination.

Up until a few years ago cabs were the main means of transportation in Iqaluit. There were few personal vehicles and taking cabs was a part of everyday life. Over the past few years there has been a dramatic influx of vehicles of all types. Cars, trucks, SUVs classic cars, even Hummers. Iqaluit has them all. I've heard than on average ther are 300 more cars shipped up every year, a substantial number for a place this size. The influx has been hard on the cabs who have seen business go from a hustle to keep up, to a hustle to survive. One of the really important functions the cabs still serve is transportation for many of the medical folks here in Iqaluit. Since it is very expensive to ship and keep a car here in Iqaluit many of the people who come here to work at the hospital choose to take cabs instead.

In small, isolated places everyone has to look out for everyone else in order to survive. In that spirit the cabs of Iqaluit offer emergency transportation to the doctors of the town. When a doctor is called in to the hospital to deal with an emergency, the nearest cab will drop whatever else it is doing in order to provide quick transportation. When I phone in to the dispatch and say 'It's Dr. J., I have to get to the hospital quickly!', a cab arrives at my front door quickly. 'How fast?' the driver asks. I say either 'Pretty fast.' or 'Really fast.' depending on the nature of the emergency. When I say really fast that's exactly how the cabs go, like NASCARs, racing down the road, drifting around the corners, making every effort to get me to the hospital on time.

I wonder how often cabbies down south are responsible for getting a doctor to the hospital in time to catch a baby, or treat someone who's seriously ill? Probably not often, but here in Iqaluit it's just another part of regular business...


Midwife with a Knife said...

Wow. Sounds like a neat community, actually. I love your stories from Iqaluit, it reminds me of Alaska. :)

I had a question, though. Is Iqaluit accessable by road?

Dr. J. said...

Good question! Iqaluit is not accessible by road, and in fact no community in the territory of Nunavut is! We get all of our supplies by air, or ship (during shipping season), and the only way in or out is on an airplane. The longest stretch of road in Iqaluit is the about 5 km between 'downtown' and the neighbouring community of Apex (ie. the suburbs). The longest stretch of road in all of Nunavut is the 'highway' (a term used loosely in this context) between to community of Arctic Bay and the former mining community of Nanisivik. I believe that road is about 40km long (perhaps someone can correct that if needed, as I know there is at least one person from Arctic Bay who reads the blog from time to time!).
Dr. J.

Rob & Tina said...

Very interesting. There are no cabs here in Fort Rae, but the medical team's housing is right next to the Medical Centre, and if it is something that they can't handle (and from what I understand they do just about everything) there are 2 ambulances that transport patients to Yellowknife. If it is an emergency that needs to be there faster (it's an hour on a good day to Yellowknife) there's a med-evac helicopter that comes in from town. There's also a bus that runs from here to Yellowknife everyday. Leaves in the morning and comes back in the evening. We shipped our Pathfinder up when we moved, and boy and I glad we did!

Ron and Jan said...

Hi Aaron and Julia,

We read all your stories with great interest It' great to be able to communicate with you and Liana, haven't got Jesse,s address yet .Although enjoy the great pictures ,we have one on our screen now thanks to your mom.I made an error above sorry.
Your cooking looks very inviting, we'llbe glad to tested any time.
Love and keep nice and warm
RON and Jan.

Dr. J. said...

Hi Grandmere et Grandpere!! Glad you are enjoying the blog!! Hope to see you both sometime soon.
Aaron and Julia