Few kind words for city hall
by Mike Beggs
The comments of members from across the taxi industry lend much validity to owner/operator Gerry Manley’s harsh assertions about Toronto’s Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw, which he claims violates several senior statutes.
One of his prime points of contention is the six-month-plus delay in Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director Tracey Cook’s one-year review of the new bylaw – representing the taxi industry’s last real chance to affect legislative changes to it.
Scarborough City Cab vice president Gurjeet Dhillon says it’s incumbent on the City, “to step up to the plate” on this.
“I understand there’s a lot of work to be done at the City, but it’s not really good faith (to keep the taxi industry waiting, as it struggles to stay afloat),” she comments.
“(But) I believe there’s going to be a discussion in the spring around taxi issues.”
Veteran driver Fitz Daley deemed it typical of the City, when it comes to cabs.
“That’s to show you,” he says. “The taxis are the last on their list. It’s lip talk, and they do nothing.”
Driver Mohamud Hagi Salim Hassan slammed Cook for turning her back on the cab industry.
“She’s the one who said the City needs the TTL. You and I know, TTL drivers, she stabbed them in the back,” he alleges. “Now she’s saying Uber is good. Whatever she says, she’s pleasing her boss (Mayor John Tory).”
Owner Al Moore seconds Manley’s belief that taxi interests have been even further deprioritized under the new bylaw, now that Uber and the other PTC’s are paying the City 30 cents for every run.
“No, (they don’t care),” he says of the delay. “They want the industry gone, so they can make more money.”
“They were making money off us for 40 years. They’ve used our industry as a cash cow. Now, they’ve got a bigger cash cow, and Uber can represent more money to the City going forward.”
One of Manley’s chief points of contention is Uber and other PTC’s being granted unlimited access to the Toronto market -- which he claims violates both the fourth principle behind the City’s 2012 Taxi Reforms (“the ability of licensed taxi drivers to make a reasonable living”), and the first principle (which includes, “the environmental well-being of the city”).
On the streets, cabbies vouch for both these concerns.
“It’s very slow, because we have a Mayor who is anti-taxi, anti-immigrant, which in this business is everything,” alleges Hassan, who bought his plate in 2003. “He’s trying to destroy plate values – with 50,000 Uber X cars out there – and at the same time, he’s complaining about the overcrowded streets (and the pollution).”
Thirty-three years on the road, Daley laughs at the mention of Tory’s supposed “level playing field”. He says he wouldn’t be surviving if it wasn’t for WheelTrans runs, and is wondering how he will pay his mortgage.
“The bottom line is, right now I think we’re making below the minimum wage. I’m making much, much less than 20 years ago,” he relates. “It’s not easy anymore. I need to get a new car, but I can’t afford it.”
He suggests the City is “trying to blame it all on Uber”, to cover over a lot of problems. Like giving out 400 TTL licenses two years back, “when there was clearly no need for them.
“If you’re a company and business is slow, what do you do? You lay off. They threw more cars on the road. There’s only one pie,” he observes.
“It’s a big mess, there’s no two ways about it. But the City doesn’t care. They’re not the ones losing money.”
For her part, Dhillon acknowledges the City faces an age-old conundrum regarding the right number of taxis on the street – because in periods like bar closing time, “you could have 100,000 cars out there, and it wouldn’t be enough”. But for most of the day, the City is now choked with some 60,000 cars.
“Honestly, it’s necessary that Tracey Cook and her team come up with the right equation. It isn’t easy to do,” she says. “The City can’t operate without the taxi industry, and they have to do the right by thing by them -- they pushed them around for so long.”
And while at 30 cents per run, there’s lots of money to be made from licensing PTC’s, she emphasizes the City has to be able to see “the big picture” -- the well-being of the customers, and the taxi drivers”.
“(Collecting those revenues) should not be the agenda of the Mayor. It’s about the safety of the public,” she adds.
And while customers obviously like apps like Uber, she suggests, “At the same time, we have to go back and look at why the taxi industry is regulated the way it is... Safety is a major concern when you’re transporting people. It’s one thing to bring in these lower requirements, but they’re there for a reason. I think there has to be a happy medium.”
“That’s definitely the major reason for everything. Otherwise, what kind of message are we sending our children -- that it’s okay for people to break the rules?”
Long-time owner Stephen Hozack agrees wholeheartedly.
“The one thing that bothers me the most is, we heard the same thing over and over again (for years) regarding public safety. Where’s their public safety now?” he asks.
“All of the money they’ve spent, millions and millions on all of these studies, and what are these studies worth today? Not a dime.”
Dhillon stresses that, unlike with Toronto cab drivers, “there’s not a lot of transparency” when it comes to the standards of Uber driver training, screening, and vehicles, with Uber basically regulating itself.
“The City has the obligation to do audits, and make sure the public is safe,” she comments. “Do we really want to wait for an incident to happen?”
“What we’re concerned about now is rape against the female passengers,” Moore adds in. “You get people cruising clubs at night posing as Uber drivers, because there’s no way of telling (as few of the Uber drivers are displaying the required identification sticker).”
“There are so many reasons Uber shouldn’t be allowed to continue -- but the politicians are going along with it.”
Hassan sees “grey areas in the insurance of Uber X drivers, and questions the City’s wisdom in abolishing the Taxi Driver Training School and not making in-car security cameras in PTC vehicles.
“The cameras, we really need them because they’re good for the safety of the Uber drivers, and their customers, too,” he says.
Hozack points out that, “No one has (even) mentioned the insurance for Lyft drivers.”
Like Manley, he feels Uber “got away with murder” from 2013—2016 when it operated outside the bylaw with virtual impunity, while siphoning away approximately 60 percent of the taxi runs.
“The City claims different things, but what happens? Nothing,” he states. “All those years we served the public and obeyed all those laws, and they hate us with a passion. I just don’t know.
“We did everything the government told us to do, and now we’re totally forgotten for doing the right thing.”
Veteran owner Tony Caerano is critical of Uber charging its drivers 25 percent off the top of each run, and for its practice of surge pricing during peak periods.
“I’m very amazed people are kind of endorsing this,” he says.
“I’ve been in this business 52 years, and in the old days the drivers complained that taxi owners used to spend all their time in Florida. I have never charged drivers 25 percent of anything, ever. Now the poor taxi drivers have nothing, and Uber is worth $67 billion, and nobody is complaining. They have all these billions, why don’t they buy us out?”
While acknowledging it’s difficult, Dhillon says if the industry can get together, “that’s the absolutely best way to get anything done.”
“If we can all come on board with that one topic, that would be a good start for the industry,” she continues. “At the end of the day, it’s about the taxi guys having a livelihood. They’re not making enough. If drivers aren’t making money, there are no fleet garages, no brokerages.”
“We have to fight for it, as well. We want to make sure every driver gets at least the minimum wage. I think everything we do has to be focused on that.”
However, Manley feels the industry has been hell-bent on deregulating the industry for decades, and the only way to seek financial redress is through the courts.
Caerano stands behind the idea of seeking compensation.
“I’m sure there are grounds, the only trouble is a lack of money,” he says. “And if you have the money Uber does, and the politicians support them, what are the chances?”
“All of these people from any place in Ontario can come and drive around in Uber, and Lyft cars. Nobody can survive in this,” he adds. “This is where I think we have a case to make.”
Of the prospects of compensation, Daley says, “They should do that, but I don’t think they’re going to do it.
“I don’t know if legal action will (succeed), because cab drivers they can’t stick together -- so the City can do whatever they want.”