‘City is totally at fault’ for their dire circumstances after 50-year investment in Toronto’s taxi industry, say Sue and Murray Weisbart
by Mike Beggs
How badly have Toronto plate owners been hit by Uber?
Well, just ask Murray and Sue Weisbart, one of many couples now living through their “not so golden years”, thanks to the City’s laissez faire attitude towards the licensing and enforcement of Uber X and other Private Transportation Company (PTC) cars, which now number more than 90,000 in T.O.
“The one plate we bought for $16,500 (in the early Seventies) is now worth less than what we paid for it,” Sue says bitterly. “So, my poor husband worked almost 50 years to have his investment worth less than it cost him (originally).”
The leasing revenues from their two plates have, similarly, been shattered.
“Our income is down from $3,300 a month, to $500 a month,” she continues. The City robbed my kids of what we had to leave to them. My son (50) is not a well person. It would have been very nice (to have had that income for him).”
The Weisbarts are part of the All Taxi Owners and Operators Limited’s $1.7-billion-plus class action suit, penciled in for a pivotal November certification hearing in Ontario Superior Court. The owners allege the City acted in a “negligent manner” in the way it enforced against unlicensed Uber X cars from 2014-’16, for adopting Chapter 546 in July of 2016 and, “disregarding the interests of taxi plate holders”, and went back on its longstanding promise that the Standard plate would serve as their proverbial “taxi driver’s pension”.
Since the new bylaw’s enactment, the cab industry has repeatedly pointed out the inequity of the rules and costs imposed on taxi operators, versus PTC drivers (in terms of insurance, safety measures, vehicle restrictions, background checks, etc.), under Mayor John Tory’s professed “level playing field”.
“Level playing field? Yeah, it’s very level,” she scoffs. “The Uber driver pays $15 a year (for a license), and the cab owner’s license is still going up -- to almost $1,000 a year! That’s really level.”
“It is a regulatory system. The City should be regulating it,” she continues. “Murray got written up once for not having his name on his run sheet. Then, Uber comes along and no regulations at all (for three years, and little enforcement thereafter).”
And while providing cabbies with zero to minimal protection, the City rakes in 30 cents on every PTC ride.
The situation is night and day to when Murray, of Polish descent, started driving cab in 1970, at the suggestion of a friend in the business. He was 29.
“We had gone bankrupt in a men’s clothing store. We had two kids. He had worked so hard,” she recalls. “It was Labour Day weekend in 1970. He was so excited that first day, going out the door to drive.”
Weisbart found he could make a go of it. And soon enough, he went to an uncle to help pay for his first plate. Sue stayed home for the first three years, before going out to work.
“He would leave the house on Saturday morning, and I wouldn’t see him until Sunday afternoon. That’s how we lived,” she recalls.
In his 46 years on the road, her husband received at least one commendation from the City (for helping out citizens in distress), but just two speeding tickets.
“When Murray worked, he wore a suit and tie every day, even in the winter,” she adds. “This was his business. He was proud of what he did and he was not a third-class citizen, as a lot of people like to think.”
Fast forward to 2019, and taxi interests’ have been steamrolled over, given the general public’s apparent love affair with ridesharing, damn the consequences. But while PTC users may have benefitted from the (usually) lower prices, the heavy fallout of the new regulatory regime includes heightened traffic congestion and crime, and many PTC drivers who can’t navigate the city without their GPS. (The standards have become so watered down that Council recently passed a motion reinstituting mandatory training for all VFH drivers).
Cab operators say they’re on the brink, with their call for a cap on PTC’s completely ignored in the City’s latest bylaw revision.
It’s tough for the Weisbarts. Murray, 82, now suffers from dementia.
“His medications, two of them are not covered. It’s almost $250 a month,” Sue says.
That said, they consider themselves to be “among the lucky ones”, having managed to squirrel away some savings over the years. That’s compared to those owners who: mortgaged their homes to purchase a plate for upwards of $300,000; have been forced to remain on, or return to the road in their late 60’s and 70’s; or those “taxi widows” who rely on their late husband’s plate rental as their lone source of income.
Since Murray’s health began to decline, it has fallen on Sue to manage their plates, keep house, and do all of the family driving.
She tells Taxi News, “you will not quote me” on her feelings of how owners have been treated, after decades of dedicated service.
“I wrote so many letters to the City – to every single councillor, to Mayor Tory and the newspapers, and nothing. Because quite frankly, nobody gives a damn. The public doesn’t care,” she comments.
“I blame the City. The City is totally at fault.”