August 2019

After three years of ‘study’, calamitous VFH Bylaw sees little meaningful change

You won’t see me say this very often, but the left wing on City Council got it right and the mushy middle and right wings got it wrong.

Of course I’m referring to the “debate” and vote on the latest round of changes to the Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw.

The reality is the left did not have a chance to effect meaningful change that might have actually helped the City’s beleaguered taxicab drivers.

In my view, the single biggest realistic change would have capped the number of Uber, Lyft and other app-based operators clogging City streets and decimating business for licensed taxicabs.

But Mayor John Tory was having none of any talk about caps. Indeed, my information is he tried to get Councillors to not even use the word “cap” in whatever they said publically. Not even he could do that, with both Councillors Perks and Wong-Tam suggesting a cap be put in place. I don’t recall if Councillor Karygiannis used the word “cap” but he certainly went to bat big time for the taxi industry. But they were in the minority. I’m also reliably informed that some very, very heavy duty arm twisting by the Mayor was going on behind the scenes to get staff recommendations passed with minimal alteration.

As much as Uber, etc., using their puppet Mayor, did not want even driver training imposed, not even he could avoid the simple reality that some form of training was an absolute real-world and political necessity. There have been too many deaths in these vehicles, too many sexual and other assaults, too much national bad publicity for even the Mayor to ignore.

They certainly did not want to come out and say it, but I sensed an undercurrent that Council realized it really, really screwed up by getting rid of driver training in 2016, resulting in directly placing the public at huge risk.

As far as I am concerned, these Private Transportation Companies (PTCs) are essentially a variation on the old Ponzi scheme, where there must be a continuing influx of new drivers to replace those who sign up, find they can’t make any money and get out. Without a constant flow of new drivers coming in, I suspect these PTCs would collapse.

Instituting meaningful training for new drivers will likely slow the interest of new drivers, which is why the PTCs don’t want training, and public safety be damned.

So some form of driver training will be reinstituted, but your guess is as good as mine what form this training will take. Staff must approve a new training program, but the City got rid of the best driver trainers on the continent in 2016 and the new crowd at Municipal Licensing and Standards, again in my view, is simply not up to the task of developing or even being able to knowledgeably evaluate and approve whatever training programs do get proposed.

We don’t even know if training will be uniform (ie. have the same standards and content) for all VFH drivers. Again, we’ll see. (Want to bet Uber, etc. will push for the absolute minimum, like a half-hour video or something with no test, get a compliant MLS to approve and proudly proclaim their drivers are trained? What No takers?)

I’ll still realistically expect that MLS will approve the absolute least it thinks it can get away with, rather than actually expect drivers for hire to be a cut above the average driver.

Once upon a time, there was a push to actually have a professional class of VFH driver in Toronto, where taxi drivers were trained and expected to be a group of professionals, respected and treated as such. I, and this paper, absolutely supported that goal.

Then along came Uber, operating illegally for years with the full complicity of City Council and our regulators, that institutionalized the vile practice of “scooping” by poor untrained, largely unvetted dupes of a hugely financed international corporation that still hasn’t earned a penny in profit.

So much for the dream of a professional taxi driver. And, by the way, the actions of City Council, the Mayor and City staff over the past few years demonstrates their utter contempt for taxi drivers and the vital job they do as the second largest people movers in the City. Would they treat TTC drivers the same way? Not for a second. But you essentially do the same job: you transport people for money.

If they did respect you, they would not have thrown you to the wolves.

All that said, there may be some good news. A new app is being developed for taxi drivers that may, heavy emphasis on may, provide effective price competition for taxis versus PTCs.

I don’t know all the details yet. It is just about ready or may already be available to download and hit the market.

I am told taxis will charge 25 percent less than the PTCs, but drivers will pay much lower fees to offset the lower fare cost. The big selling point, I am told, will be that it is cheaper for customers, and if customers are that price sensitive it may just entice them back to taxis.

But here’s the rub. I am seeing, and am told, there is a vehicle quality decline developing among taxis in the City. I suspect it has a lot to do with lack of money being earned to effectively keep vehicles in top shape. If this is true, then shoddy vehicle quality and degraded service levels will quickly offset any price advantage provided by the new app.

I sincerely hope this new app will work as its developers expect. You will see more about this in months to come.


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