Few in taxi industry will mourn MLS executive director’s departure
by Mike Beggs
While widely vilified by the taxi industry for much of her contentious tenure, Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director Tracey Cook has clearly impressed the folks at city hall.
On December 13, it was announced that Cook has been named Deputy City Manager, Infrastructure and Development Services, with councillors unanimously approving her appointment. She starts on January 30, reporting to City Manager Chris Murray.
“Tracey joins my senior leadership team after serving as Executive Director since 2012. In this complex and challenging role, she provided strategic leadership and achieved transformational business and cultural change by building high-performance teams and developing partnerships with stakeholders in community, business agencies, and other levels of government,” Murray says in a press release. “As we start a new City Council term, it will be beneficial to have an experienced leader like Tracey helping to achieve Council’s priorities and deliver services and programs to the public.”
Cook feels “honoured” to take on this new challenge on behalf of the City.
“It’s a privilege to be charged with working to enhance the quality of life for Toronto’s residents and businesses by delivering essential services, and enhancing the livability of its neighbourhoods,” she states. “I can’t wait to get started.”
Her resume also includes; time spent as Director, Canadian Field Security Operations at Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and 18 years with Toronto Police Services (finishing up as a Detective in the Fraud Squad, where she supervised a team of officers). She’s the recipient of a Queen’s Jubilee Medal, and a Toronto Police Services Chief of Police Award.
As executive director, she oversaw the implementation of the controversial Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw (2016), licensing Uber and other Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s).
“I’ve known Tracey for many years, and she is fiercely passionate and committed to the City of Toronto. Her ability to successfully resolve complicated issues, as well as her experience working with other City divisions, agencies and external organizations will no doubt serve her well in her new role,” Mayor John Tory observes.
In November of 2014, Cook filed an application for a Superior Court injunction to ban Uber from Toronto, stating that the company was, “continuing to operate in flagrant disregard of the laws of both the City, and the Province.” But when the Court ruled in Uber’s favour, she soon fell in line with Tory’s position that these trendy ridesharing apps were, “here to stay”.
And, taxi industry leaders contend she helped push through regulations tilting the playing field heavily in favour of PTC’s -- turning her back on the industry’s financial viability, and lowering service and safety standards across the for-hire industry.
“At the beginning she did (have some compassion for taxi industry members), but in no time she saw what side her bread was buttered on,” alleges veteran owner Andy Reti. “When you have a $225,000 a year pay cheque, are you going to rock the boat?
“She had the typical police mentality – follow the chain of command, do not ask questions, do as you’re told.”
Independent Toronto Taxi Inc. president Mike Tranquada, likewise, alleges, she, “didn’t listen to our industry at all, and just did what the Mayor and councillors told her.”
Under the VFH Bylaw, PTC’s have been granted open access to the Toronto market, flooding the streets with an unfathomable 72,000-plus vehicles, along with virtual self-regulation. Countless cab industry leaders and Ward 22 Councillor Jim Karygiannis have described this setup as, “a race to the bottom”; and taxi plate owners have filed for a $1.7 billion class action suit against the City.
“That’s the worst bit of regulation I’ve seen, and I’ve been in the business for 47 years. Anybody with any common sense would have known you can’t have half the industry with no regulations whatsoever, and with as many vehicles as they want. It’s like a boat with a hole in half of it, the whole boat is going to sink eventually,” Tranquada says.
“It’s not a business where you can pay for a house and stuff like that anymore, because there’s just too many people in it. Now they’ve turned the whole industry into a part-time industry. That’s what Tracey Cook and John Tory did.
“Tracey Cook can take credit for (helping to) transfer $1.7 billion worth of cab owners’ assets to the Silicon Valley. That’s her legacy.”
Cook has absorbed further criticism for the lengthy delay in her one-year Review of the VFH Bylaw, which was earmarked to finally hit Council this spring. But, Reti says he has zero concern her promotion may further delay the report’s release.
“How many ways can the industry say the report is going to be perfect as toilet paper?” he comments.