Airport Authority opens the door for Uber and Lyft at Pearson International
by Mike Beggs
Uber and Lyft drivers are now authorized to do pickups and drop-offs at Pearson International Airport under a new pilot project.
And licensed airport taxi and limo operators are furious.
On June 12, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) announced the launch of this trial for ridesharing companies at Toronto Pearson, providing another regulated transportation option for the 57 million annual passengers and 49,000 workers at Canada’s largest airport.
Speaking for 321 permit holders, the Airport Taxicab Association (ATA) claims this gives these Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) an unfair advantage, just like they already enjoy in Toronto and Mississauga.
ATA executive director Karam Punian told The Globe and Mail this is, “a floodgate that is going to destroy our industry.”
And veteran Toronto owner/operator Gerry Manley says airport plate owners can “say goodbye to the value of the GTAA license.”
“Although the GTAA says it is a pilot project, be assured it is here to stay,” he comments. “Once it gets a foothold at Pearson Airport, and the Uber and Lyft customers get used to paying 40 percent or less than the cost of a GTAA-licensed vehicle, they won’t let the GTAA remove it under any circumstances.”
Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard told CP 24, the GTAA “made a big mistake” by bringing the project in now, with the City of Toronto way overdue in reviewing its new Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw, to determine, “whether these services are even safe for Torontonians.”
But Mississauga plate owner Peter Pellier maintains it was only a matter of time before the GTAA, “joined the gravy train”.
“Just think of the revenues they will derive from Uber, Lyft, et al,” he observes.
“It begs the question, where will they find sufficient room to accommodate hundreds of so-called ridesharing cars operating at Pearson?”
According to a GTAA press release, more than 200 North American airports, including Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton offer their passengers full ride-sharing services from PTC’s. And Toronto Pearson sees an average of 100,000 ride-sharing requests per month, bolstered by the popularity of supporting services in adjacent communities like Toronto, Mississauga and Oakville.
“Following significant demand from our passengers, we believe that a pilot of full ride-sharing options is timely at Toronto Pearson, and in line with other airports across Canada and the U.S, already offering this service,” says Scott Collier, vice president, customer and terminal services, GTAA. “We appreciate the collaboration of the ground transportation industry in sharing their feedback, and welcome another opportunity to offer our passengers choice in their transportation options.”
In a written statement, Uber spokesperson Xavier Van Chau told CP24, “We are thrilled to partner with the GTAA for this pilot, and we are committed to invest and help build a world-class mobility experience with Toronto Pearson.”
Likewise, Lyft spokesperson Aaron Zifkin said the company is “thrilled” to be able to service Pearson International.
To prepare for the launch of the pilot, the GTAA says it studied best practices at other North American airports and consulted regularly with transportation industry partners.
However, ATA secretary Rajinder Singh claims there have been no consultations with his group for almost three years. And what’s more, the GTAA has provided few details about the pilot—such as its’ duration, how much PTC drivers will pay per pickup, and if Uber and Lyft cars will require a special GTAA sticker.
From several different sources the ATA has ascertained it will be an 18-month pilot project, and that PTC drivers will be paying $4.50 per pickup -- a far cry from the $15 licensed taxis pay to pass through the compound for airport pickups (or the $9.50 they pay during peak periods, in a contractual arrangement for overflow service).
According to the GTAA, Uber X and Lyft cars can now pick up at the airport’s arrivals level at “ridesharing app pickup” designated areas. Heretofore, Pearson passengers could only order the premium UberBlack service -- even though the company didn’t have the proper license to pick up on airport grounds. Taxi and limo operators pay exorbitant fees and must meet GTAA vehicle standards.
“(Uber has) been picking up at the airport since 2012. Everybody knows,” scoffs Rita Smith, a long-time Toronto taxi industry worker.
“But now we have unlimited competition, so the prices are going to be coming down.”
And will these PTC’s require a GTAA sticker on their windshield?
“You mean like they do in Toronto?” she quips. “I’m sure they will have the same rules that Toronto has, and they will follow them as well as they do in Toronto.”
Hubbard notes the traditional taxi industry has been “lobbying for decades” for greater access to Pearson but has been blocked by the GTAA, and that the $15 compound fee makes it cost-prohibitive for drivers to do airport pickups.
Mark Sexsmith, account manager for All-Star Taxi in Mississauga, says the pilot’s impact on the existing industry will depend on how the GTAA has set things up, and “the problem is, we don’t get any information about it.”
“We know their drivers are paying $4.50 per trip. It could be (disastrous). It could drive a lot of Uber drivers up there. The problem is, who knows what they’re going to make?”
He says the ongoing PTC pilot project in Mississauga has been “tremendously devastating|”.
“It’s going to do the same thing at the airport, just cutting the pie (that much thinner),” he predicts.
And he suggests it may not be that great a deal for Uber drivers, either. While taxis charge a flat rate of about $60 from the airport to downtown, Uber’s normal rate is just $32; and he notes that Uber takes 25 percent off the top of that, before the GTAA gets its $4.50 cut.
“At the end of the day, Uber is charging drivers $8 from that $32. They don’t care. Their only interest is in the income,” he alleges.
In the airport compound, taxi and limo drivers are fearing the worst.
“This is my retirement. It’s like everything is going away. I’ll be 65 in October,” says veteran driver Brijmohan Sharma, who paid $700,000 for his taxi plate. “Nobody wants to buy it.”
“We pay $8,000 a year in insurance, maintenance, a brand new car, airport fees of $800 every month.”
“The airport authority, they just want to make the money from these (PTC) guys. They are greedy.”
Likewise, an airport limo driver stressed, “This isn’t simply some side job, this is my career (whereas most Uber drivers are part-timers).”
“We are raising a family, working full-time. There are so many hiccups with Uber -- where insurance is a questionable. We provide Accessible cars, big cars, the way the customer wants it,” he says.
“My car cost me $55,000 and it will stay on the road for five years. And I have $2 million in insurance. Uber, they don’t have these standards. We did a refresher course. Why don’t they have anything like that?”
On the road for the past 22 years, a taxi driver named Kamal agrees, “We’ve worked hard to establish the taxi business here. We worked almost 10 to 15 years to pay off our permit. That is our pension. That will be zero. We are almost 30 years back in time, now.”
“We have a dress code. We have log books and trip sheets and we treat the customer as a family member. We’ve had customers for years.”
Citing the huge differential in expenses and fee for Ubers to pick up at Pearson, cab driver Muhammad Shmawer adds, “None of this is fair, and how come in one country there are so many different laws? Calgary doesn’t allow them and we allow them here in Toronto. Why? John Tory has been the main culprit.
“When I turn on the key in the morning I have over $300 in expenses on the car. They start the day with nothing. I’m here for 32 years.”
“My question is safety,” he adds. “This whole thing is because of corporate greed.”
Another driver notes that unlike PTC’s, airport drivers have a dress code, and are required to take their cab through the car wash at least once a day.
“There are no sexual assaults in our cars,” he adds. “We have the best record, and our cars run 1 million kilometers in five years.”
“People want to save a couple of dollars and they put themselves at risk (by taking PTC’s).”
And he asserts the politicians are “all about the numbers”.
“They know they have (more than 60,000 Uber drivers in Toronto alone paying the City a 30 cent per run fee). That’s why they’re scared to raise their voices,” he alleges. “There are 600,000 Uber users in Toronto. Uber is so big.”
Another 58-year-old driver alleges that the Toronto Mayor, “doesn’t listen and has his own intentions.”
“They are destroying the taxi industry, I can prove that,” he says. “The people working here they are professionals, not kids in university. But if there’s no money what do you do? Are we going to survive?”
“They’ve already destroyed the Toronto taxi industry, and now it’s the airport This is not a pilot project. I don’t believe that.”
One of Toronto’s leading garage owners, Baljit Sikand agrees the pilot will hurt the industry “big time”. And he estimates the Toronto taxi business is already down by 60 percent, while limos have lost 25 to 30 percent of their business to Uber.
Singh estimates Uber and Lyft handled over 5,000 pickups during the first four days of the pilot, “and every day it’s increasing.”
So, could legal action be in the offing?
“We are thinking about that,” he adds. “We are planning to meet (with the GTAA) and voice our concerns.”