City has no good argument, or legal authority, for mandating snow tires on taxicabs
by Mike Beggs
(Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment in Taxi News’s series on veteran industry observer Gerry Manley’s monthly letters addressing the many flaws and outright failures inherent in the City of Toronto’s calamitous 2016 Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw. Readers interested in reading the Manley letter discussed in this article will find it posted on taxinews.com.)
This month, he tackles the longstanding requirement for all taxis to be equipped with snow tires. In 2016, the new bylaw was amended to read, “No owner shall permit his or her taxicab, limousine, or PTC vehicle to be operated, unless it is equipped with four Snow Tires, or All Weather Tires, from December 1 to April 30.”
While perhaps not the taxi industry’s most pressing issue, obligatory snow tires has been a long-time bone of contention amongst cab owners and operators. Manley claims this represents a prime example of the City abusing its’ licensing authority, in violation of both the City of Toronto Act, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Equality Rights.
He emphasizes that neither the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, nor any other statute in Ontario contains a mandate for snow tire usage; and to his knowledge, Toronto is the only municipality in the province to have imposed these regulations.
“I’m wondering how the City determined this is something unique to Toronto?” he asks. “Obviously, it is not.”
And further to the point, he wonders why the City feels it has the legal right to mandate taxis, limos, and PTC cars must have snow times, when all other vehicles operating within the City’s boundaries are not required to have them?
“Myself, and other industry members wonder, ‘Why us and nobody else?’” he asks.
Snow tires were first mandated into cabs about 20 years back. During the creation of Bylaw 546 the new rules were passed by Council, with an expressed concern for public safety.
But if snow tires were deemed so important in the drive-for-hire area, Manley wonders why the City didn’t mandate them for such categories as commercial buses, tour buses, sedan vehicles, and the approximately 850 Greater Toronto Airport Authorities (GTAA) taxis and limos.
“And if winter driving safety is of paramount importance, why don’t you put snow tires on your TTC buses, ambulances, police cars, fire engines, city Works Department vehicles, and especially TTC WheelTrans buses -- which transport people with disabilities and cognitive impairments on a daily basis,” he adds. “If consumer safety was the main requirement, they should be No. 1 on the list.”
He alleges the real truth behind this policy amounts to, “nothing more than a public relations ploy, to give the appearance the City really cares about consumer safety.”
“The proof is in the pudding,” he continues. “If that was the truth, they would protect all consumers by mandating all vehicles under their privy must have snow tires, and include private cars as well.”
But he stresses that would have the City purchasing thousands of snow tires for fleets, costing millions of dollars and provoking the ire of the general public.
During his years of policing in Toronto (from 1968-’73), Manley says he investigated dozens of winter accidents, some involving vehicles equipped with snow tires, and some not.
“The accidents were 99 percent caused by driver error, and not the lack of snow tires,” he relates.
He points to: a lack of winter driving experience; failure to drive with consideration for the road, weather and traffic conditions; and remaining tread on the tires well below the manufacturer’s recommendation for road worthiness. He and many of his police colleagues came to the same conclusion – that unless the government allows snow tires to have spikes, or chains on them during the winter, they will not improve driving safety.
He also questions the blanket requirement to have snow tires on all four wheels, under Chapter 546.
“What sense does that make if you’re driving a Rear Wheel Drive vehicle, where the traction comes from the rear wheels only, and the front wheels are for directional steering?” he asks.
Furthermore, he notes the extension of this mandate from March 15 to April 30 under the Bylaw, means for hire vehicles are now using snow tires five months of the year, with the last six weeks taking up half of the spring season.
And he questions – other than costing about $70 more per tire – what the difference is between All Weather Tires, and All Season Radial tires, the latter of which are not allowed under the new bylaw?
“What gets me is, they don’t accept All Season Radials,” he comments.
“They will operate just fine in the snow, and I can use them all year round saving the cost of seasonal tire mandates.”
What’s more, Manley has always questioned tire manufacturers’ claims that snow tires are necessary when temperatures fall to 7 degrees Celcius, or below.
He says it all boils down to the fact that, “drivers won’t slow down on icy roads.”
“It has been proven snow tires serve no purpose,” he purports.
“If you’re out in the dead of country, maybe. If you’re on the 401, don’t go 130.”
Manley spent $1,200 to $1,300 for his snow tires, plus $300 per year to have them installed and balanced and then replaced with regular tires in the spring (maintenance referred to in the industry as, “re and re”).
And he complains that while the insurance companies offer individual drivers a 10 percent discount on premiums for installing snow tires, this discount does not apply to taxis (who must be part of a “group” to get insurance).
On December 15, 2014 the then provincial Minister of Transportation Stephen Del Duca himself told Global News he believed the decision to use snow tires or not should be left up to drivers, adding, “I drove through the snow from Vaughan (the other) morning without winter tires.”
And Manley emphasizes that, in the event of a conflict, a provincial statute (in this case, the Highway Traffic Act) always takes precedence over a municipal bylaw.
“The provincial Act tells me I don’t require snow tires, so the bylaw is really without effect,” he reasons.
“The City needs to come back in line with the Province on this issue and leave whether snow tires are required or not up to the owner of the vehicle, and return to fair and equal licensing practices for all -- which will then bring them back under the umbrella of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Equality Rights,” he offers.
He suggests this red herring reflects the state of government in general, where, “we’re not under a democracy, we’re under an autocracy.”
“They dictate to us, because they know (as taxi operators) we don’t have the resources to fight them in court,” he suggests.
Under the current circumstances, where Toronto streets have been flooded with 72,000-plus PTC cars, in addition to the 5,000 cabs and other commercial vehicles being overseen by just 10 to 12 Municipal Licensing and Standards enforcement officers, Manley observes, “I could use regular tires and wait for them to stop me.”
When asked how many PTC vehicles are equipped with snow tires, he laughs, “Are you kidding? I guess out of the 72,000 vehicles, 500 of them might have snow tires, because they know the City bylaw inspectors can’t stop their vehicles, or a taxi while in motion.”
He’s not sure all cabs have snow tires on, either.
“We were all using them before, when we were inspected (by the City). We’re not inspected anymore,” he observes.
“(Rules are all just) words on a piece of paper, if you can’t enforce them.”