ATOOL supporter struggles to understand City’s ‘unconscionable’ treatment of taxi industry
by Mike Beggs
When he first started driving taxi in 1975, Frank Nast says, “I’d do doubles because I enjoyed it.” Some 45 years later, he will still take on a double shift when the opportunity arises – but now it’s because he has to.
He turns 65 in December, but under the untenable conditions of Bylaw 546, retirement is the furthest thing from his mind.
“It’s the life I’ll be looking for at least another 10 years,” he tells Taxi News.
“It’s brutal, and I’m having problems with cash flow. There are little or no flags on the streets anymore in Toronto. We sit on the stands in the downtown core and wait one to three hours (between fares).”
According to Nast, it’s the norm for several Torontonians at a time to be on their smartphones scanning the same street for their Uber, or Lyft ride. Between the (generally) cheaper prices, and the convenient app technology he can’t blame them for flocking to the 82,000-plus Private Transportation Company (PTC) cars now combing the city. But he adds the new regulatory regime presents, “all sorts of complications.”
Just a short list would include: the continuing questions and lack of transparency surrounding PTC drivers’ insurance, background checks, and vehicle markings; the lack of mandatory safety features in PTC cars; the need for comprehensive driver training; and the increased gridlock and congestion in the city centre.
When Uber first appeared in Toronto, Nast thought it was just another technology company selling its’ product to the cab brokerages, for dispatch purposes. Instead PTC’s have undermined the taxi industry (in Toronto, and in countless other cities around the world), “without any responsibility on the part of the City.”
“We didn’t believe it was going to happen,” says this friendly bachelor, who is part of the All Taxi Owners and Operators Ltd.’s $1.7-billion-plus class action suit leveled against the City.
“We’re self-employed. We were anticipating protection (from the government), but we’re not getting it right now. So I go to work every day, but don’t get any money.”
Nast is long-used to being jammed up by the City.
He got his start driving taxi at 21, while studying Engineering at Centennial College. (He’s also a certified auto mechanic).
“I was working at Canadian Tire part-time and not making enough, and my buddy was driving for Beck,” he says. “I put myself through school at Centennial, and I just kept driving, and driving, and driving.”
However, when his number finally came up in 1999, he was awarded, not a Standard, but a newly created Ambassador plate -- with no street, or lease value! Like many industry veterans, he feels this marked the beginnings of the City’s “hidden agenda” to deregulate the business (which has culminated with the unlimited number of Uber and Lyft vehicles now flooding the market, “slowly choking us to death”).
After 15 years of lobbying, Ambassadors saw their plates converted to Standards with the passing of the Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw in 2016. But plate values have been driven consistently downward -- to a measly $20,000. And lease rates are now just $100 to $200 a month.
So much for the plate serving as his “taxi driver’s pension”.
“The question of ownership is out the window (now). That’s going to be one of the core arguments, if the class action gets certified.”
Nast considers it “unconscionable”, what the City has done to the cab industry.
“They’re the biggest enemy in my life. I’ve picked up a lot of good people, and some ruthless people in bad places (over the years), but the worst I’ve met is the City of Toronto. They’ve caused us so much grief, and they want to take everything away,” he comments.
“(But) I was born in Toronto and I’m still here, and I’m not getting out. I refuse to back away from the business. I’m here to the bitter end. I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel. All I believe in is compensation.”
And for all that, Nast says he, “enjoys every day of it”, and still loves hitting the streets in his cab.