After 48 years, veteran taxi driver and industry activist calls it quits, fed up with City’s new vehicle-for-hire regime
by Mike Beggs
Fed up with the City of Toronto’s new public transportation order, veteran taxi driver/industry activist Gary Walsh has called it quits.
“I’ve been driving for 48 years and have enjoyed every single day. But one day -- December 17 -- I regretted getting into it,” he tells Taxi News.
Walsh, 69, was driving down King Street and found a fellow cabby tailgating him under wet conditions, before passing him on the wrong side of the road, only narrowly avoiding an accident.
“I pulled in at 351 King, and had this feeling, ‘I’ve got to get out of this. It’s too dangerous,’” he relates.
Then, while sitting there, Walsh watched SEVEN Ubers dropping off and picking up, while he waited for a charge account run.
“My income has gone down (steadily), until I just realized it wasn’t worth it. I was making $10 an hour for a 12-hour shift. I was better off working at McDonald’s,” he says, of the rapidly deteriorating industry prospects competing against some 72,000 Private Transportation Company (PTC) vehicles.
And, from a broader perspective, he was totally disillusioned by the blatantly pro-PTC concessions of Toronto’s Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw (2016), which included many of the recommendations put forward by Uber Technologies in a Draft Bylaw.
“It’s the largest example of municipal corruption I have ever seen,” he alleges.
“No cameras. Sexual assaults, Kidnapping. I pray that either the OPP, or better still the RCMP, pushes the Toronto Police aside and does an intense criminal investigation of Toronto Police, Licensing, and councillors who legalized Uber after three years of illegal operation.”
This colourful Toronto native spent time in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver before receiving his cab license here in May of 1971. However, he got his first taxi license in Vancouver, and – remarkably -- spent five years living between the two cities simultaneously.
“I drove taxi in both cities, six weeks on and six weeks off, and had both an Ontario and B.C. license – which, by the way, is illegal,” he chuckles.
For the past few decades, Walsh has also run his own paralegal service. And over the years, he has consistently been frustrated by the failure of Toronto taxi industry members to get on the same page and fight for their rights – at city hall, or through the courts (most recently with the plate owners’ proposed $1.7-billion class action suit against the City).
He takes pride in, at one time, leading the United Taxi Alliance of Canada to double its’ membership (before ultimately giving everyone their money back, and disbanding), and being appointed for a three-year term on the Taxicab Advisory Committee from 1996 to 1999 (beating out 17 other applicants).
Also a former Ambulance Driver Attendant, this father of five was always willing to work with Toronto Police (as an extra pair of eyes and ears on the street), while many cab drivers don’t share that sentiment, given the heavy-handed ticketing they’ve been subjected to.
“I take being a cab driver very seriously. It’s up to us to help people as First Responders,” he offers.
His advice to new drivers?
“I would advise them to volunteer for everything, and travel if you have to. And those grocery runs are the backbone. If at all possible that next airporter would be mine, even if someone else rightfully deserved it.”
Walsh terms his time behind the wheel, “absolutely the most exhilarating adventure there could ever be”, and has started writing a book about his experiences (tentatively entitled, “Hacker: The Incredible Journey”).
What’s the best thing that happened to him in the cab business?
He says, that’s easy. It was meeting, then finally reuniting with “the most beautiful girl ever to walk the earth”, 32 years after they parted company. They’re now celebrating their 15th anniversary.
“During my first week at East End Taxi, I had to go into the office to okay a charge and there she was,” he says of when their stars first crossed.
“The cab industry brought me my true love. It was all worth it.”