August 2017

MLS officers harassed taxi drivers at Union Station with no clear authority

by Sid Kash

To the editor,

Outside Union Station, Sunday, May 7, 2017, around 2 pm, a number of MLS officers and an MLS supervisor pulled over several taxis and gave tickets for picking up passengers within 30 metres of a taxi stand.

I was one of the first taxis to be pulled over. As I picked up a female passenger and started to put her luggage in my trunk I was approached by two MLS officers, one who was recording me with a camera. I was perhaps 15 to 20 metres ahead of the taxi stand located on the south side of Front street, near University Avenue.

This taxi stand is not for regular taxis but for special recognized taxis who pick up passengers from the Royal York Hotel and from the train station. This taxi stand allows eleven taxis and it is usually completely full.

As I was being ticketed something just did not seem right. So I began to ask questions. The first question I asked was how far am I from the taxi stand and where I am legally allowed to pick up passengers? The MLS officer vaguely pointed to some pole and said you need to be ahead of there. My next question was how am I supposed to know where this pole is? The MLS officer did not have an answer.

I then asked the MLS officer to take a look at the taxi stand. There was only one taxi on the stand which is usually full. I explained to the MLS officer that as I drove north on University Avenue at Front Street, what I saw was one taxi on the stand and about fifteen or so passengers waving for a taxi. This told me from my experience that trains have arrived at the station and there is going to be a flood of passengers seeking taxis.

This ended up being correct as a large number of passengers continued coming out of the station for the next forty five minutes or so. In this situation, I asked, how was I to react? Still there was no answer.

Sure enough the one taxi on the stand was quickly taken and while the MLS officer was talking to me a number of passengers kept asking me if I was available. I asked the MLS officer if it was appropriate to be giving me a ticket in this situation. The MLS officer, however, was adamant in issuing a ticket.

At the same time a number of other taxis appeared and started to pick up passengers and were also pulled over by other MLS officers, all this while the taxi stand had no taxis on it.

I told the MLS officer that what he was doing was not correct and I pulled out my phone camera and attempted to record the empty taxi stand while other taxis and myself were being ticketed. The MLS officers were not happy with being recorded but it is my legal right to record.

I was detained by the officers for about 35 minutes. In the meantime many passengers were asking me if I was available. As I got out of my car to continue to record other taxis being ticketed, another MLS officer approached me and identified himself as a supervisor.

The supervisor was lot more friendly and cooperative and allowed me to record my talk with him. Essentially he said that this was their first day trying to do an information blitz. So I asked the supervisor the same questions - where was I legally allowed to pick up passengers and how can they ticket taxis when the taxi stand is empty. The supervisor still did not have an answer. He did however say that he sent two letters to the railway management requesting that poles should be marked so taxis could identify where they can legally pick up passengers and both times the requests were denied.

At this point I think the supervisor also realized they were in error but I cannot say for sure. I then asked the supervisor that perhaps he can speak to the MLS officer who was holding me unnecessarily for a long period to clear up this matter so I can resume working. The supervisor did go speak to the MLS officer and at the same time I noticed other MLS officers stopped giving tickets and taxis resumed picking up the large amount of passengers.

The MLS officer holding me finally approached and issued me four tickets. I asked the MLS officer if I am legally allowed to pick up a passenger where I am presently located. The MLS officer said that there is a sign that says ‘no standing’ and that a regular parking officer could give me a ticket which could be about $450. So I again asked just where is the place which both the supervisor and other MLS officer was pointing where taxis can legally pick up passengers. He again did not have an answer. So I replied how can you expect taxis to know where to pick up passengers if you do not know yourself. Seeing that this talk was again going nowhere, I said to the MLS officer that while we have been talking there is an elderly woman with luggage right behind you who has been looking for a taxi but she cannot find one. Am I allowed to pick her up? The MLS officer replied with a yes even though he was contradicting himself. At this point I got out out of my taxi and picked up the elderly woman and put her luggage in my trunk and was glad to leave.

The bigger issues and confusion surrounding taxi service at Union Station still remain, however. MLS needs to provide answers but still has not done so at this point. There are two main questions that need to be answered.

First, are taxis legally allowed to pick up passengers from the train station? The MLS supervisor and other MLS officer said yes by pointing to some poles that have to be 30 metres away from the taxi stand but that does not seem to be correct. The problem here is that there is another taxi stand on the north side of Front street near Bay street which can hold up to eight regular taxis. If you add 30 metres from that stand and 30 metres from the other stand that equals 60 metres between the two stands which takes up the whole block. This should legally mean that no passing taxis should be picking up from Union Station unless on the taxi stand. Passengers therefore must walk to either end of the station and if going to the east side must walk across the street. Naturally passengers are not willing to do this. As a result the taxi stand on the east side is usually empty and taxis have been illegally parking closer to the main doors on the south side in the passenger unloading zone.

Second what are passing taxis supposed to do when there is a sudden flood of passengers at the station? Often taxi dispatchers will send computer messages saying taxis are needed at Union Station. If taxis cannot legally pick up passengers without being on the stand how are the passengers going to get taxis?

Since these two issues have still not been solved, the passengers are the ones most affected and as a result they continue to express frustration against taxis and start taking alternative means such as Uber. The taxi business as a result continues to be decimated and business has been down by quite a bit.

MLS needs to solve this dilemma at Union Station. In the meantime, taxi drivers do not know what they are supposed to do. Union Station is an important connection point with taxis and passengers. Billy Bishop airport is another important taxi-passenger connection point and it has created a clear and effective system. MLS needs to do the same for Union station and the sooner the better.

As I arrived home that evening I finally looked over the four tickets I was issued. The fines totaled $1,460. Naturally I was not pleased.


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