Why is city hall on a mission to destroy the taxi industry?
In last month’s Taxi News, I wrote about City Hall’s six decades of ill will toward the Taxi Industry in Toronto. I was not planning to write a follow up but a number of events made it necessary. The year started with some good news for Ottawa’s cabbies by getting approval from a Judge to sue their City for not enforcing the bylaw against Uber and some other grievances. This was right on the heels of the European Union Court declaration that Uber is a taxi service. I don’t know what effect it will have for Toronto but I am hoping that it will become a catalyst for a united industry here as well. In addition, the province of Quebec is also working on a compensation package to correct the effects Uber had on their taxis, while Australia is there already.
Last month’s article also made reference that even our own public transportation provider the TTC is getting hurt by Uber. That file is now expanding and I believe it will have consequences for all the participants. Currently, the unionized transit workers are in negotiations for their contract renewal with the City of Toronto. The union has embarked on a publicity campaign including the following: ...“Our union will continue to fight hard against contracting out, while preserving fair wages and benefits”. I tried to contact the union for clarification but could not get any details or elaboration before my deadline. It must be noted that TTC is a government sanctioned and protected monopoly. Toronto’s licensed taxis were supposed to have similar protection prior to Uber’s intrusion but it was not enforced. The best illustration of lack of enforcement is the Airport Exemption which I wrote about in a three part story called “The Forgotten Front” a few years ago. I believe the TTC union is smarter than the taxi industry was and they won’t allow Uber to enjoy the “level playing field” that was foisted on taxicabs.
I will take a leap of faith and predict that “contracting out” will have something to do with Uber. At a Transit Commission meeting last year an agenda item was “servicing the perimeters of the City”. In the ensuing discussions taxis were NOT mentioned but Uber WAS. Additionally, it is widely speculated that Uber is in the process of acquiring 50 wheel-chair accessible vans. It must be noted that the current legislation does not prevent Uber from bidding on a TTC contract. For the last number of years the TTC contract was a life-line for a large number of cabbies in Toronto. If that income stream is reduced or eliminated it will have dire consequences for everybody.
So, what should be made of these developments? Does anybody believe in the “level playing field” that City Hall has created for the taxi industry? What is “level”, when Uber can undercut taxi tariffs, doesn’t need to have the same safety measures as taxis, pays practically no licensing fees, doesn’t need cameras and enjoys virtually no enforcement against them, along with an entirely different insurance regime?
Is “level” also applicable to the three year period when Uber was ALLOWED to operate without the rule of law that conversely was being applied with an extremely heavy hand against the cab industry? I hope that the City will have a tougher time with the TTC than they did with the taxi industry if they are indeed trying to muscle Uber into TTC territory.
In July, 2015 Judge Dunphy dismissed a City of Toronto application centered around the question whether Uber was breaking existing bylaws. There are a number of people in the cab industry who followed this initiative closely and were dismayed by the events as they unfolded. First, a number of us were of the opinion that the challenge was set up to fail, which it did. However the shocker was that the decision was not appealed. The decision should have been appealed on numerous grounds, including the Judge’s reasoning, but it wasn’t. WHY? Was it because the decision about Uber was already made?
So, let’s examine this a bit further. The Private Transportation Company (PTC) bylaw applicable to Uber was officially enacted one year later in July 2016. Prior to Uber appearing in Toronto around 2012/13, a very similar organization to Uber called Hailo was operating in Toronto with 100 percent bylaw compliance, using an app for dispatching services just like Uber. Hailo ceased operations around the time when Uber moved in for reasons that were never publicly disclosed. For the next three years Uber was operating illegally, including the question whether they had sufficient insurance for the public’s protection. Why was that allowed?
Since the creation in 1957 of a regulated taxi and limousine industry, nothing of this magnitude was foisted on Toronto’s hard working taxi industry. Over the years the threat of de-regulation was bandied about occasionally. For all intents and purposes, by allowing Uber into the market, the City has effectively accomplished de-regulation. In my previous article I made reference that the City was determined to destroy the industry. The question is still the same -WHY? Is the approximately $450,000 per month income generated by Uber for the City coffers worth the destruction of tens of thousands of people, their lives and dreams?
Since I have been a cabby for over 50 years, I am not surprised by anything coming from City Hall but the current regime relating to the taxi industry is truly deplorable. Over the years I witnessed a number of mean spirited changes against the cab industry but foisting Uber on us was really a low point unparalleled to this day.
I want to repeat a common theme that City officials heard from every member of the industry: “We lived by the rules created by City Hall and we had a social contract”. The City not only broke those rules but changed them entirely. City hall is on a mission to destroy its taxi industry! WHY?