November 2017

Auditor’s report suggests taxis not top of mind for City and its staff

It sure looks as if it is going to be a long time before the taxi industry gets a look at the promised City review of the last round of “reforms” imposed on it by Council.

I went to the October 27th meeting of the Audit Committee of Council where the City’s Auditor General presented her report (presented in three parts) on Municipal Licensing and Standards operations, with particular emphasis on two areas of particular concern: the licensing and enforcement of eating establishments compared to nightclubs and holistic treatment businesses compared to body rub parlours.

Have no doubt: these license categories and how they are handled are serious problems for politicians, residents and MLS. The challenges they present are difficult and desperately need attention. I certainly wish everyone well on the City side particularly in efforts to make rational sense of the rules governing them and to give enforcement people the tools needed to get rid of the bad operators while not making life too difficult for the good operators. It is a delicate balancing act.

That said, it was also clear as crystal that taxi issues are decidedly not of any priority to the auditor, politicians or MLS. I think I heard the word “taxi” mentioned once in the whole meeting and it was only in the context of a passing reference.

After the meeting I asked MLS Executive Director Tracey Cook if taxi matters were on a “back burner” for her and her staff. She said “No,” but she could also not give a time line on when the review, already three months late, was going to see the light of day. I’m pretty damn sure it is not going to be any time soon.

Put it this way: my distinct feeling is that taxi matters are now considered by the City to be a done deal and therefore nothing in particular needs immediate attention by Council.

There are other licensing matters that have taken over priority, like short-term apartment rentals (eg. AirB&B) and the items spotlighted in the AG report.

Many, if not most, of the taxi people in this city would take issue with any feeling there are no taxi problems that must be addressed. The simple fact is the City totally screwed taxis in the last round of reforms and somehow the balance between taxis and Private Hire licensees must be restored. But don’t hold your breath. Things are likely to get worse for you before they get better.

At the same time she commented that license fees for taxis were not likely to go up in the next budget. That is really good news considering what taxis already pay.

In fairness, Cook and MLS have some major problems to deal with. Consider the revelation that the Auditor General found in the period between January 1, 2015 and December 31 2016 there were 168 directives from the City that are “outstanding”, meaning they haven’t been complied with as yet. There was no list of these items provided at this meeting although I am pretty certain such a list exists. I do seem to recall a list of outstanding work to be done that was presented last year at the Licensing and Standards Committee, but I can’t put my hands on it right now.

And as far as I can tell this 168 number does not include reports ordered by council or committees that have not yet been researched and written. It has been bandied about that some outstanding reports have been hanging around since 2010. I can’t confirm this yet, but would not be in the least surprised that it is true.

Simply put, MLS does not have the staff or resources at the moment to do everything being demanded of it by Council. It did come out at the Audit Committee meeting that MLS cannot be all things to all people: it simply cannot do everything, at least with current resources.

The AG also pointed out that the vast majority of license fees have not been touched since 2005, and it was suggested it might be worthwhile reexamining. (You think?)

Thirty odd years ago when business licensing was ruled by the Metropolitan Toronto Licensing Commission (MLC), it was smaller, less accountable and had seriously good and seriously bad things going on that I was very vocal about. Now, as a City department, it is more accountable, but has an immensely larger workload with some highly complex problems to deal with. I suggest taxi matters take up so much of the MLS time they actually serve as a drag on the department’s ability to function as well as it could and should in the 100-plus other categories of business licenses it administers.

It did not come up at this meeting, but perhaps it is time to suggest once again that For Hire Vehicle licensing be split off to be regulated by a separate, stand alone entity. I submit the current fees generated by taxis alone would more than adequately fund such a stand alone body and industry matters could be dealt with far more efficiently and fairly.

The business environment is changing so rapidly and radically that waiting for bureaucratic processes to move at their usual glacial pace is past the stage of being intolerable, costing time, money and is hurting customer service.

When other businesses can make business decisions rapidly, taxis are stuck in a bureaucratic morass. This situation, I submit, has to be corrected. I’d welcome your thoughts on this suggestion.

If you are interested in looking at the whole AG report go to the City web site, look up the Audit Committee meeting of October 27th and go to the various background files. There is a huge amount of information there and I suggest it is worth reading.


Duffy's Domain

Cab Stand