A message for Ontario Premier Doug Ford: province must exercise authority to rein in reckless municipal taxi regulators
by Mike Beggs
Since the enactment of Toronto’s game changing Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw in July of 2016, long-time Toronto taxi owner/operator Gerry Manley has made a concerted effort to draw attention to what he alleges to be the many flaws and illegalities contained in the controversial legislation, in the hope of creating greater awareness of the devastating impact it has had on both the taxi industry and the broader public interests it serves.
Since passage of the bylaw, he has sent a barrage of well-researched letters to countless politicians and bureaucrats at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government, in the hope of spurring corrective regulatory action.
With a view to streamlining this voluminous body of research, Manley has issued a series of letters addressing specific problems inherent in the new regulatory landscape. Beginning this month, Taxi News will be running a news story highlighting one of these letters each month for the duration of the series. The originating letters will be posted in full on the Taxi News web site at www.taxinews.com.
Our first installment focuses on a weighty 10-page letter from Manley to Ontario’s then newly elected Premier Doug Ford, dated June 8, 2018. Here, he provides an overview of his many concerns about the new bylaw, and tells the Premier it’s “imperative” his Progressive Conservative government take a look at how cities throughout the province have been licensing their taxi industries since PTC’s like Uber arrived in the marketplace with their groundbreaking and popular apps. In Toronto, he estimates Uber X cars have taken away approximately 60 percent of all taxi runs, while driving down plate values by a staggering 75 percent.
While municipalities have been passing taxi bylaws since the 1840’s, Manley maintains many, especially mega centres like Toronto, haven’t conscientiously kept up with the times, over the course of many years. He says they lack the expertise to address the changes currently turning the for hire industry upside down, and that, “the taxi licensing powers granted under the Ontario Municipal Act (2001), and the City of Toronto Act (2006) need to be handed back to the Province, with the idea of looking into regional, rather municipal legislation.”
“I’d like the Province to first understand, it’s not just a Toronto issue, it involves many municipalities in Ontario. And because they are not capable of (responsible regulation) it’s incumbent on the Province to intervene immediately,” he states. “If they don’t, the taxi industry, as it stands today, will be gone within five years, thereby putting thousands of people out of work and on to the welfare rolls.”
He asserts that, in passing PTC-related bylaws, the municipalities had an obligation to ensure any changes reflected not just consumer requirements or expectations, but taxi industry members’ decades of investment and service to the communities in which they operate.
“The Province, upon investigation into these issues, will quickly find out that taxi industry members were given no such consideration,” he says.
He alleges that at provincially imandated taxi industry stakeholder meetings, municipalities often come in with preconceived notions and hidden agendas on how to deal with cab issues, and for the most part pay lip service to industry input.
In Toronto’s case, he claims the new bylaw effectively terminated a decades-long “social contract” which existed between taxi industry members and the City. (This allegation is a central plank in the proposed $1.7-billion class action suit recently filed against the City of Toronto by taxi plate owners, to which Manley is a consultant).
In his view, the City has jeopardized the financial future of both industry members and their families, without offering any compensation for their losses (unlike in Quebec). And he’s among those who believe the City has wanted to deregulate the cab business for decades, “and now with Uber coming along they’ve found an effective vehicle to do that.”
“Every place Uber has moved into the marketplace, it has pretty much destroyed the taxi industry,” he alleges, “because the cities don’t give us the tools to compete.”
He’s adamant the City’s bylaw does not contain the “fair and level playing field” promised by Mayor John Tory.
And he wants to know why the unlicensed Uber was allowed to operate for three years with virtual immunity from 2013 to mid-2016, while the first ridesharing company to hit Toronto streets (Hailo) was forced to obtain a taxi brokerage license and was subject to regulation under existing taxi regulations.
Under this scenario – with Uber paying no licensing fees, not subject to a mandated meter rate, and allowed to build up its fleet at will -- he says the licensed taxi industry could simply not compete. He estimates each of the city’s 5,500 taxicabs is losing about 10 trips, and $130 in revenues per day.
Among the fundamental disparities under the bylaw, PTC drivers pay a $15 driver’s application and annual license renewal fee, while taxi drivers pay $130 for each category. Taxicab owners paid a $964.86 renewal fee in 2017, while there is no renewal fee applied to PTC vehicles.
Taxi plate owners are heavily restricted as to what vehicles can be used as a cab, while the only stipulation placed on PTC vehicles is that it must be a 4-door sedan. And while taxicabs are mandated to be equipped with a taximeter, an in-car digital camera and emergency lighting system, such costly equipment is left optional for PTC drivers.
The bylaw requires PTC drivers to post an identification sticker on their front windshield, but according to Manley the vast majority of these vehicles remain unmarked – creating a dangerous trend across North America where “fake” PTC drivers have picked up, and sexually assaulted unsuspecting female passengers.
With as few as 10 to 12 MLS inspectors dedicated to enforcement for an industry which now contains in excess of 70,000 vehicles, Manley wants to know how this can possibly advance effective consumer protection? Or how the huge number of PTC vehicles, working mostly in the downtown core, aligns with Mayor Tory’s plan to reduce congestion, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
And while PTC’s have been granted virtual self-regulatory powers under the new bylaw, he notes Toronto cab operators have long been subject to some of the most heavy-handed and expensive taxi licensing in the world.
In Manley’s view, the bylaw is not only patently unfair, but violates the fourth cornerstone of the City’s Taxi Reformation of 2011 to 2015, “to ensure the economic viability and sustainability of the taxi industry.” He notes this fourth condition was added by City Council itself, before the new bylaw was passed.
“How can you say you addressed that when you’ve got about 75,000 PTC’s serving a market which could support 3,500 cabs?” he asks.
“Allowing unfettered access into a marketplace that has always been regulated, they’ve not only removed thousands of jobs, but consumer safety as well.”
Another of his prime points of contention is the vast licensing revenues the City is now collecting from PTC’s – including an initial PTC application fee of $20,000, an annual PTC licensing fee of $15 per driver, and a fee of 30 cents per trip. That 30 cents per run fee alone amounted to a whopping $7,620,000 from July 15, 2016 through November of 2017, according to Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards.
“Some very interesting questions need to be asked and answered, since the Province of Ontario mandates licensing revenues must be collected on a cost recovery basis. How does that scenario apply here?” he asks.
What’s more, he notes that 30 cent per trip fee was initially earmarked to help Toronto Taxi License (TTL) holders with the purchase and operation of their costly wheelchair accessible vans -- yet these drivers have not received a penny from the City, nor the Province. He emphasizes that under the edicts of the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (2005) on-demand wheelchair accessible service is clearly the responsibility of the municipality, not TTL drivers.
Furthermore, Manley observes that while under changes made to the Excise Tax Act (Canada) in the summer of 2017, PTC’s and their drivers are now defined as a “taxi business” and must be treated as such, Toronto legislates them as different entities under Chapter 546 -- with PTC drivers receiving special licensing fee rates, and other privileges not afforded taxi drivers.
He further notes that under the Canadian judiciary system, whenever there’s a conflict between two laws, the senior statute always takes precedence over the junior statute. He believes the VFH Bylaw lies in conflict with the Excise Tax Act making it “ultra vires, redundant, or a moot point and therefore without effect”, and is calling for it to be scrapped completely, and rewritten with meaningful input from the cab industry.
“There can be no doubt that the City does not legislate parity between PTC drivers, and taxi drivers,” he alleges.
“This serious breach of statute law is just another in the never-ending, and ongoing list of violations of senior statute, irresponsible governance, lack of industry fairness and public safety, or consideration for the decades of public service given by the long-established taxi industries being committed by the City and other municipalities involved in PTC licensing.”
He’s among those industry leaders who believe PTC-related issues, and other longstanding cab industry problems could be resolved if taxis and PTC’s were brought under the legislative umbrella of Metrolinx, with the creation of one Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area license for all these vehicles.
He notes this Crown corporation (2006) already has statutes in place dealing with creating seamless transportation in the region, to which the for hire transportation industry could be added.
“Since Metrolinx already manages and integrates roads and public transport throughout the GTHA, would it not be advantageous for the consumer to add municipally licensed taxis, and PTC’s as well?” he writes.
He stresses this would eliminate hundreds of different provincial and municipal, bylaws and put the governance under one provincial statute and regulator, while addressing GTHA consumer service and safety.
He says that since the involved municipalities refuse to correct the injustices and unfairness contained in their bylaws surrounding PTC issues and complaints, the responsibility lies at the doorstep of the Province, which grants licensing powers. Further to the point, he suggests, “the Province should have be named as a co-respondent with the involved municipalities in the courts, if it fails or refuses to correct these discriminations.”
On behalf of the taxi industry, Manley requested a meeting with the Premier, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, the Ministry of Transportation, and the CEO of Metrolinx, to discuss this issue. He maintains Ford, a former Toronto councillor (whose late brother Rob was a former Mayor, and sat on the Toronto Licensing and Standards Committee before that) must be “very aware of the ever-present municipal negativity towards the taxi industry membership over decades.
“The need for this to be addressed through enacting fair legislation is of paramount importance,” he writes.
“The thousands of taxi industry members and their families throughout Ontario need the support and assistance of their elected representatives at Queen’s Park to put a plan in place that does create a fair and level playing field for all. Ontario’s taxi industry is facing financial ruin.”
While he received a response from the Premier’s office acknowledging his concerns within a few days, as yet there has been no further word about arranging such a meeting.