What will it take to make Toronto politicians acknowledge the dire state of the taxi industry?
I hope others saw the news item out of New York City where a livery owner/driver committed suicide in front of City hall. Apparently the man was distraught over the ruin of his business, ruin he blamed on NYC sanctioned competition from Uber and other app-based dispatch services.
Of course this is tragic. But this level of despair was utterly predictable, given what happened in Ireland a few years ago when that country deregulated its taxi industry. The last I heard, the Irish Taxi Union directly attributes at least 17 deaths of cab drivers to deregulation. Many were from suicide. Others were from stress-related issues. People lost their homes, businesses and financial futures because of that utterly inane policy.
In other jurisdictions around the world, there may not have been suicides, but certainly we have seen demonstrations and even violent assaults between Uber and other similar company drivers and traditional taxi people. I don’t know of any murders being committed so far, but wouldn’t be terribly surprised if they have happened. Saddened, yes. Surprised, no.
Of course, politicians on this side of the Atlantic have chosen to ignore the harsh lessons and human suffering resulting from deregulation and its variations. They’ll never let facts and reality get in the way of a misguided, vicious, political ideology such as the so-called sharing economy.
Will we see the same horrible story unfold in Toronto? I certainly hope not. I can say many long-time cab drivers are being pushed to the brink as a result of our City Hall’s callous indifference to the plight of thousands of individuals and families who relied on non-existent City Hall promises and integrity.
I wish I could offer words of hope to those who are being devastated by the present economics of the taxi business. I can’t.
My only suggestion is for you to tell our politicians in no uncertain terms about what you are going through. Some of them might actually have the intelligence and ability to see what they have done to you and perhaps champion your cause at Council.
Here is another thought for you to consider. While delivering papers in early February I stopped at one fleet garage and the owner told me he has plates returned to him by some drivers who are now grossing $1,200-$1,400 a week driving for an app-based company. Among other things, he told me they say they don’t pay fixed dues to a dispatch company, but rather pay on a per-ride basis, and thereby reduce their costs. We didn’t get into a deeper discussion of other costs like insurance. (Do these drivers maintain commercial vehicle insurance or do they ignore the law and operate on personal vehicle insurance like apparently most other app-dispatched drivers, saving money that way as well? Are they working for taxi brokerages at the same time? I don’t know.)
I am certain the City is giving Private Transportation Companies a free pass on bylaw enforcement while continuing to commit serial ticketing against licensed taxi drivers. Of course this is despicable and utterly predicable from a city government that is totally focused on squeezing every drop of money it can from you.
It is also a fact that The Canada Revenue Agency is looking hard at taxi drivers to ensure all revenues and taxes are paid, including HST. Is the CRA also auditing Uber and other app-affiliated drivers to see if they are paying their taxes? Again, I don’t know. Late in February there was a Globe and Mail story about the CRA examining table servers and bartenders in at least one resort in P.E.I., checking to see if they have paid their taxes. If the CRA is going after these low-income people, why wouldn’t they go after cab drivers? You are easy targets. I have repeatedly warned the taxi industry this is likely to happen.
On another very sad matter, taxi owner-driver Louis Seta has passed away in hospital. I counted Louis among my friends in the industry. Louis also wrote an opinion column for Taxi News for a time. He will be missed.
A self-described “consumer advocate” sent me a package of material in the mail and I spoke with him on the phone. He sent the same package to a number of taxi companies as well. He is very anti-Uber and wants the taxi industry to fund an ad campaign to inform the public about the downsides of Uber (and other app-based dispatch systems). Late in the month he called me back noting a lack of industry response to his initiative. So folks, what do you think? Worthwhile?
Finally, last month I wrote about a cab driver who was nailed by a Municipal Licensing Enforcement officer for having a sign on his cab’s back window saying, “Uber is not here to stay.”
His case was put off until May 15th, along with a number of other taxi-related cases. The driver found this to be a bit suspicious. He also told me he has written to the Attorney General’s office complaining about the $240 ticket. He told me someone verbally informed him in that office that they would investigate and that possibly the City exceeded its powers. There is nothing in writing back from the AG’s office about this yet that I have seen. He has promised to keep me informed and I will keep you up to date as I learn more.
He has told me that if convicted he will refuse to pay the fine and he told me they could put him in jail instead. I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that.