The case against city hall
We do expect Municipal Licensing and Standards staff to come up with the follow up report mandated by City Council on the latest round of taxi “reforms” at some point. It is just we have no idea when it will come forward, despite being pointedly reminded by the Licensing and Standards Committee at a recent meeting that the report is overdue.
That said, we are more than a little skeptical about seeing positive relief from the Council-imposed disaster that has fallen on the beleaguered, monumentally long-suffering traditional taxi industry in Toronto since the City gave away the farm to Private Transportation Companies.
We’ll also say that while there may be as many as 50,000 registered Uber drivers on the books at Municipal Licensing and Standards, we don’t for a second believe all or even a significant portion of this number are actually working.
We also think, based on admittedly scant evidence, the consumer love affair with app-based dispatching is waning. Consumers are increasingly keenly aware of the disgustingly expensive pitfalls of “surge pricing.”
Plus, with increasing numbers of allegations of passenger abuse, including or especially charges of sexual assault, by some Uber drivers across North America and in Europe, the public may well be growing leery about the driver vetting process these companies use.
As well, allegations of a toxic corporate culture at Uber, along with some highly publicized lawsuits and a reportedly dismal balance sheet have helped take the shine off public perceptions of the company.
So we are utterly mystified at continuing support for app-based dispatching at City Council and in the Mayor’s office. The answer, of course, could well be simply that the City is taking in scads of money from Uber and Lyft rides at 30 cents a pop. Traditional taxi drivers who have dutifully bowed and scraped to City bureaucrats and some of the most highly restrictive licensing rules on the planet are thrown to the wolves and treated like unwelcome trash (despite their paying usurious licensing fees).
Perennial taxi industry advocate, cab owner/driver Gerry Manley, has for years flooded City Council and MLS bureaucrat mailboxes with well-researched complaints about how the City has dealt with traditional taxis, and their owners and drivers.
He compares the Toronto experience with how taxis and app-based dispatchers are treated in other jurisdictions worldwide, and Toronto does not come off well.
Now an Ottawa Judge has permitted a class action lawsuit to proceed (see reporter Mike Beggs’ story on the decision elsewhere in the paper). This lawsuit is comparable to the $410 million class action suit brought by Toronto owner/operator Dominik Konjevic on behalf of all licensed Ontario taxi and limo owners, drivers, and brokers. While many issues are the same in these suits, there are significant differences, most notably one is against a private company and the other is against the municipality.
Manley has taken a somewhat different approach, alleging among a host of other things, that the City of Toronto broke a number of senior laws in the latest round of reforms, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. His portfolio of complaints is too long to get into here. We are not lawyers and are not qualified to assess the validity of Manley’s allegations. Perhaps some of his points will arise in the existing class action suits. We certainly hope so.
We agree that the City appears to have acted in bad faith dealing with its traditional taxis. It, without doubt, failed utterly to create anything like a “level playing field” between taxis and app-based dispatchers. These shameful failures are a massive blot on the honesty and integrity (to use the wording of the City’s licensing bylaw) of Council.
Talk to a random sampling of ordinary cab drivers and you’ll find they agree the City has massively let them down in this entire process, citing many of the points Manley makes.
If the City deliberately set out to destroy the existing taxi industry, it certainly made a superb start.
So this begs the question: what will the City do to start to redeem itself? We suspect it will do very little without a huge kick in the fanny by the courts. We’d love to be proven wrong.