Lawyer
Taxilogoweb2014

June 2019

City’s half-cocked accessible transportation policy is crippling taxi operators

So we are all still waiting for Municipal Licensing and Standards to bring forward its analysis of the taxi and other vehicle for hire businesses in Toronto, plus its recommendations on a go-forward basis.

To the surprise of no one, they are now officially late in bringing out the report. Again. Ho, hum. So what else is new?

I make only one prediction at this point: MLS will come up with new plans to foist the costs of accessible transportation on to the backs of taxicab owners and drivers, while giving the app-based companies essentially a free pass. Ho, hum. So what else is new?

The much-touted new Accessible licenses the City issued after the 2016 “reforms” have been an unmitigated disaster for the poor dupes who were issued the permits. It was patently obvious from the start that there was not a market for these new plates and in fact the up front and ongoing costs of operating this service on an on-demand basis are ruinous.

Anyone with a smattering of common sense and/or business experience knew this, but the bureaucrats and non-business types at City hall who have never had an instant of experience in running any business, not to mention a taxi business, were willfully blind to the disaster they were making.

Some months ago, at one of the few “consultations” I attended in this go-around, I specifically asked MLS staff about who is actually responsible for paying the costs of this service for the disabled.

This is not an idle question. It may well, depending on what the City wants to do to you (again), spell financial ruin for just about everyone in the industry, from shift drivers, to lessees to owners.

According to provincial correspondence obtained months ago, and about which we wrote in this paper, by cab owner/driver Gerry Manley, the burden of buying the vehicles and providing the service certainly seems to fall onto the City.

The City says it has a legal opinion that it is not responsible. Interesting.

In fact the provincial plan, cooked up by the previous Liberal government, was for cab companies the province mistakenly thought owned the taxi licenses to buy the vehicles and provide the service.

The province evidently had no thought of forcing individual cab owners and operators to personally subsidize this service. The City of Toronto does not see it that way.

As an aside, don’t those nice folks at the province have the foggiest clue how to intelligently research a problem, and get some basic facts straight, before coming out with these wonderful ideas? Evidently not.

Here is my problem, and don’t for one second think it is my idea alone: the City has stated, under oath in court and elsewhere, repeatedly, that it retains ownership of all taxi licenses it has ever issued.

Okay, some taxi owners take issue with that position. The City allows “transfers” of licenses, and on a transfer the old taxi number is voided and new license number is issued. These licenses are, the City admits, “sold.” But the City is not the seller. It only gets a (usurious) transfer fee. It approves every transfer.

But tell someone laying out a pile of money for a plate that they haven’t bought a piece of property and you likely will have an argument on your hands.

Here is where it is complicated.

If the City “owns” the licenses as it maintains, and the province says taxi “owners” must provide accessible service, does that not mean the City has to go out, buy a bunch of accessible vehicles, obtain drivers for them and operate them on a daily basis?

I submit there is a good argument to say just that, based on the documentation I’ve seen. I am not familiar with the legal opinion the City has received. It is not public information. Who knows but the City may be right legally. Certainly not ethically or morally, but perhaps, maybe, legally it has cause to think the way it does.

Manley, in an extensive review of this whole question, points out that the Province (under the past Liberal government) enacted without debate or discussion with the industry or anyone affected including the taxi industry and groups representing the disabled, “Ontario Regulation 165/16 made under the Disabilities for Ontarians With Disabilities Act”.

By revoking 16. Subsection 78 (4) and 17. Subsection 79 (3) of the regulation, Manley points out ,“This absolves a municipality from meeting the requirement for accessible taxicab servicing and this change can be done by a Minister or Premier, without it ever seeing the floor at Queen’s Park and was done without having even one major stakeholder’s meeting with the people this affects the most, the taxicab industry membership.”

I will say this: the Province, by revoking those two sections of the Regulation, behaved in an utterly despicable, slimy, unethical and immoral way.

So the City may well be right to maintain it has no responsibility to provide this service.

I also find it fascinating to read the Toronto Municipal Code where it states, “Any PTC with more than 500 PTC drivers licensed by MLS shall provide wheelchair accessible service to the public.”

Then, using City numbers, Manley comes up with the following: “Comparing the PTC accessible service requirement to the taxicabs, excluding limousines who do not, but should provide accessible transportation, because they all provide vehicles-for-hire services and are governed by the same bylaw, Chapter 546 does not contain any acceptable level of proportionality or fairness.”

He notes: “Taxicabs – Fleet 5,204 – Accessible Wheelchair Vans 683 – Fleet Percentage – 13.124%; PTC’s – Fleet 82,784 – Accessible Wheelchair Vans 35 – Fleet Percentage – 0.042%; and Limousines – Fleet 584 – Accessible Wheelchair Vans 0 – Fleet Percentage – 0%.”

The PTC’s get around this requirement by sub-contracting out to other service providers most or all accessible ride requests.

So how will MLS deal with this issue? I have no idea, but I can almost guarantee taxi operators will not be happy.

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