Shame on you, Toronto
Everything we have heard or seen to date tells us the new provincial government does not intend to interfere with municipal decisions relating to the taxi industry, particularly while there is an ongoing review in Toronto.
This is despite ongoing, and on their face, credible, accusations that the City of Toronto at least, has blatantly broken both Federal and Provincial laws in its continuing alleged misregulation of the industry and gives, again alleged, favoritism afforded exclusively to app-based dispatch companies.
The last we heard from a Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility spokesperson was, “municipalities are ultimately responsible for establishing specific bylaws and requirements for individual drivers and companies.
“We suggest that you might consider raising these concerns with your municipality and their local Accessibility Advisory Committees.
“Should you still have questions about the legislation, the regulations and your obligations under it, we would encourage you to seek independent legal advice.”
From the City we get, “Staff are currently reviewing accessibility as part of the review of the vehicle-for-hire bylaw. The aim is to develop an accessibility strategy to ensure that individuals requiring accessible service have access to accessible vehicles-for-hire, at a rate and within a wait-time that is comparable to non-accessible rides. The report on this review is expected in Q2 2019.”
Neither of these responses is anywhere near good enough.
Here’s one problem: if the province intended for taxi owners and/or dispatch companies to pay for and maintain accessible vehicles, and the City of Toronto has consistently argued in various court actions that it owns all licenses, does that not mean it is the City that must pay for the infrastructure, (vehicles, etc.) necessary to provide the service?
How can the City legally download all costs on to the backs of the increasingly bankrupt drivers who were forced to accept Toronto Taxi Licenses (TTLs) and buy the necessary accessible vans?
As follow up questions, does the City intend to act responsibly to the plight of the TTL drivers it (perhaps unintentionally) destroyed financially in the last round of taxi industry “reforms” in light of what it heard before and during the latest round of “consultations”?
How does the City intend to compensate these drivers for the despicable and immoral burden it placed on them, possibly illegally? Remember, the province states it is the responsibility of municipalities to provide this service, not the taxi industry alone and certainly the burden should not fall on individual taxi drivers.
One thought that occurred to us was that the City is getting millions of dollars a year from Uber and Lyft and others. Some or all of this money should be directed to providing accessible service at zero cost to taxpayers.
This month we profile one TTL driver telling of his plight operating one of these vehicles. Among a host of other things Murtuza Gowher said, “They promised us a one-tier system in 2014. They sucked us into the TTL program, and in 2016 they flipped on us. I always call it a bait and switch program.”
At least one person with the City commented at a recent consultation that TTL holders got a break because the City graciously allowed these plates to be sold. Well, no one wants to buy them at any price, and how would that help with day-to-day costs?
Gowher must work 14-hour days just to make ends meet, he said. He must belong to a brokerage, but says he only gets about one accessible call a day from the company. He has to buy more gas because the vehicle is heavy and maintenance costs are about 30 percent higher than for a regular sedan. He is paying about $900 a month for his van purchase financing. Plus he has to go to special courses to keep up his training requirements to serve the disabled, who by all accounts are bypassing more expensive taxi service in favor of heavily subsidized WheelTrans operated by the Toronto Transit Commission.
Meanwhile, able-bodied passengers are turning away from accessible vans, preferring sedan taxi service or even regular vans or, of course, Uber, Lyft and others.
“How many nails are they going to put in our coffin?” Gowher asks.
In 2016 Council made a very bad political decision with no regard to simple dollars and cents economics. This must be dealt with urgently, not at some down the road Q2-of-2019-maybe date. We suggest staff propose a significant subsidy be handed to TTL holders at the very first meeting of our new City Council. It would be a start.