Desperate state of accessible taxi sector a reflection of total vehicle-for-hire regulatory shambles
I only attended one of the consultations in the latest taxi bylaw review – the one dealing with accessible taxi service.
In my opinion, the City, through Municipal Licensing and Standards, got an earful about how the entire industry has been screwed by City actions in the 2016 Bylaw changes.
In particular, it got blasted for how the accessible transportation file has been botched.
Five items in particular were subject to the most criticism, encompassing the entire industry, with accessible service a part of, but not the entire, mess.
First was in the area of driver training. Of course, council closed the taxi driver training school on the recommendation of MLS. According to industry people this has led to a host of problems with customer service in particular.
Drivers are entering the industry without a clue about city geography, zero knowledge of what they are required to do under the bylaw, not a clue about how to keep themselves safe while working, without a shred of training on how to deal with disabled customers or even how to properly secure people in accessible vans, or others with non-visible disabilities, or even deal with children (accompanied or otherwise).
People are coming to taxi company offices having, literally, just received their Provincial “G” licenses honestly expecting to be handed the keys to a taxi.
At my table there was total agreement that while the voluntary Centennial College program is doing its best, a mandatory training course is desperately needed, not just for taxi drivers but also for all who transport people for-hire (including full and part time Uber and Lift, etc. drivers).
I did mention years ago I called for reestablishment of the old Provincial “Chauffeurs License.” Under this license, you could not drive people for pay unless you had demonstrated superior driving skills.
And yes, I do agree the Province does have a role to play in the for-hire-vehicle business. I’m just not sure how extensive that role should be.
Second, Council, on the recommendation of MLS, shut down the City-run vehicle inspection centre. Taxis and other for-hire vehicles are now required to have the minimal Provincial Safety Standards certificates, presenting them at various times depending on how many kilometers the vehicle has been operated, but at least annually.
There was total agreement that this decision has led directly to a deterioration of vehicle standards that places the public at risk. In other, more blunt words, we’re starting to see really junky cars being driven around as taxis (and PTC) vehicles, like we saw in the late 1990’s.
Even in-car safety cameras are not being checked to make sure they are working. But the trouble lights all taxis must have should probably be discarded as they have proved to be nothing but nuisances, particularly for police.
While taxi meters are still required, no one is checking them for accuracy!
The upshot is that thorough, City-run inspections must be brought back quickly.
Third, current bylaws must be enforced fairly for all, including taxis and app-based dispatch companies. The full agreement among those I spoke with is that while enforcement of bylaws against taxis is in full swing, companies like Uber and Lyft are getting a free pass from the City. It has already been admitted by MLS management that the City has handed over bylaw complaints to the app-based dispatch companies, with absolutely zero oversight by the City or the courts.
It was even suggested some PTC drivers are dropping insurance on their private cars, relying solely on the policies that kick in when on an app run. If true, you’d think the City and police might be marginally interested. Apparently they are not.
The City admits it receives more than $7.5 million a year from these companies, so any suggestion it does not have the resources to enforce against them is, in my considered opinion, pure, unadulterated BS.
These companies are given free passes to break any City or Provincial insurance laws they want without consequences, while taxi drivers are ticketed into bankruptcy. It is not fair. I and others have been told Toronto police have been directed not to enquire into the insurance status of Uber and other PTC cars. I certainly hope this is not true.
The City is acting without the faintest shred of decency and this favoritism must stop.
There was also agreement that the current accessible vehicles on the market are not up to the job. This surprised me but agreement is there is real need for a purpose built accessible vehicle, as current vehicles are all custom built. I learned while they may be allowed to be on the road for five years, reality is they are pretty well ready for the scrap yard after five years, or sooner.
I also learned that able-bodied customers find the ride uncomfortable. One at my table compared it to sitting over the rear axle of a school bus. I can’t comment as I have not ridden in an accessible van.
There are too many accessible vehicles on the road for the business available. These rides need to be subsidized as loading all the costs on to the poor folks who bought the vehicles and provide the service is not sustainable.
Finally, all agreed there are simply too many for-hire vehicles on Toronto streets for anyone to make a living.
We at TN have been saying that for years. There are now 68,000-plus non-taxi vehicles registered with the City to carry people for hire. And the City has the gall to wonder why downtown streets are congested?
So, will MLS or the new crop of City councillors get the message? We’ll see.