Aggrieved TTL owners advise MLS review staff their situation is desperate
by Mike Beggs
With all the chaos heaped on the taxi industry over the past few years, it’s Toronto Taxi License (TTL) holders who are clearly the most hard done by.
And with the City finally underway with a Review of its Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw, about 40 to 50 of these drivers attended a dedicated TTL consultation on September 17 at North York Civic Centre to plead for relief again.
Industry leaders agree the 550 existing TTL’s represent a vast oversupply of these cost-prohibitive, wheelchair accessible vans, which service both TTC WheelTrans clients, and the regular riding public.
“You can’t believe the financial situation with the TTL drivers,” says iTaxiworkers Association director Mohammed “Reza” Hosseinioun. “There’s no business for them.”
He reports that no less than 10 to 12 TTL plates are now back on the shelf.
“If the car is done (its working life), nobody will put a second car on, because the City doesn’t take any responsibility,” he comments. “They’ve been talking for years and years, and collecting money from ridesharing. (And still the City has offered no relief.)”
One of the TTL drivers at the meeting, Imran Chowdhury reports that while TTL holders pay $60,000 to $70,000 for these modified vans, they receive minimal business from TTC WheelTrans clients (the vast majority of whom still use subsidized WheelTrans bus service), while most able-bodied customers simply won’t get in these “ugly”, over-sized vans. He notes that TTL drivers pay big for insurance, gas, and maintenance, and that as they age many drivers find it hard to deal with this heavier work (which includes pushing wheelchairs up a ramp).
“A lot of our drivers, they’re struggling. They are getting a loan from the bank, and are only making their minimum payments. They are thinking of declaring bankruptcy. I already know of some,” he says.
“That’s why it’s important to discontinue this system. It can only be sustained with financial support.”
Wheelchair accessible taxi operators in Montreal, Kingston, and Winnipeg receive a purchase incentive of $10,000 to $15,000 on their vans, but neither the Province of Ontario, nor the City of Toronto is offering any such help.
In a recent letter to Premier Doug Ford, the Ministers and all the MPP’s, fellow TTL holder Shahan Chowdhury revealed the desperation of he and his 550 peers, most of whom, “are in personal debut of $35,000 to $40,000.”
“We have had many meetings with the Toronto councillors, and Municipal Licensing and Standards staff regarding the TTL issue,” he writes. “As a result of this ordeal, we are the ones who are suffering, along with our families.”
He maintains the TTL is a “flawed and failed program” in which drivers have invested $70,000 to $80,000 in these modified, high maintenance vans, and, “seldom, if ever, receive any customers from Wheeltrans.”
“And, day by day we are losing business because of Uber and Lyft,” he adds. “It is not a level playing field. Uber runs their own controlled meter and cheap insurance, whereas the City controls the meter for the taxicab industry, and our insurance is high. The City also controls the number of taxicab drivers, while Uber and Lyft have (almost 70,000 drivers) and that’s increasing every month.”
“This is not justice for the taxicab industry. The Quebec parliament is expected to pay every driver $30,000 in compensation, but Toronto City Council has made no such plans. We humbly request the Premier, and all of the MPPs to compensate the TTL owners.”
At the TTL consultation, attendees were divided into six or seven round table discussion groups, each with a staff coordinator and someone taking down industry complaints and suggestions.
“Appalled” by the treatment of TTL drivers over the course of many years, Standard plate-holder Andy Reti was one interested party who floated between the groups.
And while Imran Chowdhury felt they had, “a very good discussion with City staff,” Reti deemed the meeting the “same old, same old.”
“Now the City is asking them to come up with a solution. Solution to what? They didn’t create the problems, the City did,” he remarks.
Reti is one of many industry leaders who feel the whole Review amounts to “window dressing”, on the part of the City.
And he voiced disappointment that a letter from the Province to long-time owner/operator Gerry Manley, confirming that wheelchair accessibility is indeed the responsibility of the City and not the taxi industry, did not arrive in time for the TTL meeting.
“It’s just really, really unfortunate I didn’t have the Ministry’s letter with me. But that’s the issue I raised in two of the groups – that it’s the City’s responsibility to fund these vehicles,” he says.
“(But now that the Province has confirmed this), I really, really hope that the TTL drivers will get together and launch their own law suit against the City.”
Manley agrees that with this information in hand, the TTL’s, “need to go after the City, big time.”
“What more do these guys need to go after the City? I told this to them from Day 1 (of this program), 20 years ago,” he says. “Now, the provincial government has admitted it in writing….The main thing is they need some kind of financial support.”
“They just can’t keep doing this. They have to have some help. It’s time to help themselves.”
Imran Chowdhury suggests there’s only enough business for 200 TTL’s, but that, “a lot of drivers could do it if there was financing.”
“I heard about (that letter to Gerry Manley),” he adds. “It’s too bad (it arrived too late), but we can send it to the councillors.”
“(And), we are thinking of joining (the class action recently launched against the City by plate owners) and will go to their general meeting on October 10.”
For his part, Manley has already sent off a follow-up letter to Mayor John Tory, Councillor Cesar Palacio (chair of the Licensing and Standards Committee), MLS executive director Tracey Cook, and the Ministry saying, “What are you going to do about it?
“It’s clearcut. It’s not up to the driver of the vehicle, it’s up to the City,” he adds.
“The City of Toronto has been running this thing wrong since way back in 2,000. (The TTL drivers), they pay all the expenses, gas, insurance, vehicle update, and maintenance.”
What’s more, with the City allowing Private Transportation Companies, like Uber, to basically self-regulate, he suggests, “There has really been no proof that PTC’s are supporting the disabled community with 50 vehicles (as promised).”
“They don’t have a different app for disabled service. How can they put out a call for accessible vehicles over the regular app, as it automatically goes to the closest vehicle?” he asks.
At the consultation for PTC’s, a Lyft representative suggested PTC companies could donate a certain amount of money to the servicing of the disabled community, but have taxis do the work.
“That would be totally illegal, because they are a taxi business (as defined by the federal government), so you can’t discriminate,” Manley adds.
“And, the City did that with the 30 cents a run. That money was to help TTL’s --- and not one cent has gone to (them).”