September 2019

City’s recent move to reinstate VFH driver training still dogged by many questions

I’ll start with an apology. For a number of reasons, most of which I won’t go into, I was unable to attend Toronto Licensing Tribunal Hearings in July and August.

Certainly I missed one hearing date because of the City Council meeting that dealt with further changes to the bylaw covering taxis and PTCs.

So this month I am bringing you sort of up to date about what happened at hearings, based on decisions posted on the TLT web site. I’m also not dealing with decisions that are not related to the Vehicle For Hire industry.

This has been a very weird summer for me, unusually busy for non-work related reasons. I’ll give you one example: my daughter and her fiancé and their dog are moving to the Vancouver area for a year (at least). That has created its own issues in terms of helping them get ready to move. I hope you understand.

Now on to substantive matters.

City Council decided to impose driver training on all Vehicle for Hire driver licensees, including those working in part or wholly on the Uber, Lyft, etc. platforms. This is without a doubt a good thing. Driver training should never have been scrapped in the first place. Certainly the taxi industry did not want driver training eliminated. It was one of (among a host of other dumb decisions I and others think were implemented to give Uber, Lyft, et al further competitive advantages) the dumber decisions made by City Council in 2016. Our taxi driver training course was in many respects the envy of the world. Heck, the City-run courses didn’t even cost taxpayers a dime: they were operated on a cost-recovery basis, paid for by the individuals taking the classes.

But here’s the rub: I certainly do not know what form that driver training will take. Who will teach the classes? Will they be done in-house by individual companies or will they be given by properly trained teachers at accredited institutions? How long will the course be? What will the topics be? What will the cost be? Will Uber, etc. drivers have to take the same course as other VFH drivers? Who will verify the drivers have taken and passed the course? Indeed, will there be an exam at the end or will somebody say just attending a bunch of classes will be sufficient to get or maintain a license? You can likely come up with other questions of your own, I’m sure, but those are a start.

My feeling is that at the moment, no one knows the answer to the unknowns.

I’ll also note that with the full support of Mayor John Tory, Uber and Lyft and all aggressively lobbied against imposition of the training courses, essentially saying they were not needed for their drivers, were an unnecessary burden and would be a discouragement for drivers to join their platforms. (My comment? Boo hoo. My eyes are clogged with crocodile tears.)

Of course, Council had to be seen to be doing something in the wake of the tragic death of Nicholas Cameron and the international bad publicity that event generated and congratulations to his mother for her dogged determination and tenacity in pushing for this relatively minor reform.

In reality, though I do think it will be a challenge for the app-based dispatchers to get their drivers trained in time to meet the Council-imposed January 1 2020 deadline, even if many of their existing registered drivers are grandfathered. Again, I shrug and say, so what?

We at TN mentioned this in last month’s editorial: the dumping of the driver training requirement was all a part of the deliberate dumbing down and devaluation of the work taxi and other VFH drivers do daily. City Council and this Mayor simply have zero respect for you and the jobs you do while at the same time saying you are important to the City’s image. Sheesh.

Driver training was there for a number of really good reasons: better customer service, driver and passenger personal safety, knowledge of the City, overall professionalism.

None of this matters, it is patently obvious, to our Mayor and his lapdogs on Council.

There are very serious further modifications to the bylaw needed and I have no doubt will come back at some point in the future. I’m specifically referring to vehicle inspections, meter verification, requiring in-car cameras in all For Hire Vehicles (including the app-based cars), more rigid verification of insurance coverage, more equal treatment by City enforcement officers and police, oh, heck – come up with your own list of further necessary reforms.

I note that in the next meeting of the General Government and Licensing Committee of Council coming up September 4th, there is an item on the agenda relating to enforcement strategies used by Municipal Licensing and Standards. It will be fascinating to see what MLS has to say. The staff report is available on line.

Among other things, it says “25 new officers were hired and trained in 2018, and 37 new officers are being hired in 2019.”

Furthermore, it says “Specialized teams have been created for the enforcement of vehicles-for-hire, cannabis, and RentSafeTO / Apartment Building Standards.”

By no means should you think MLS deals exclusively with For Hire Vehicles, and in all fairness, the bylaw enforcement responsibilities of MLS are, to say the least, daunting. They cover a long list of City-wide challenges, including everything from noise complaints to dogs pooping in parks. I am also well aware that given the responsibilities handed to this department by Council, MLS has been understaffed at the street level for years, if not decades. It is also grown more than a bit top heavy, however, in recent years. Much if not the lion’s share of the added expenses have been laid on to For Hire Vehicles (as usual). I again submit this inequity (illegality?) needs to be addressed.

So on we go into the fall and keep doing your best, everyone.


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