Governments downloading entire cost of on demand accessible service on the taxi industry with no regard for the inevitable impact on taxi operators or the disability community
by Mike Beggs
(Editor’s note: This is the ninth installment in Taxi News’s series on veteran industry observer Gerry Manley’s monthly letters addressing the many failures inherent in the City of Toronto’s calamitous 2016 Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw. Readers interested in reading the Manley letter discussed in this article will find it and previous letters in the series posted on taxinews.com.)
In a comprehensive 14-page letter, this month he tracks the history of wheelchair accessible taxi service in Toronto, and the many flaws and inequalities in the way it has been regulated, made worse under the workings of the VFH Bylaw.
“This is indeed one of the most contentious issues facing the Province, and municipalities throughout Ontario” he says.
“In Toronto, there is not only confusion as to how this service applies, but conflicts of the governing bylaw and senior statutes.”
On a fundamental level, he reasons that, “the physically disabled, cognitively, and sight-impaired communities are taxpayers, and like all taxpayers they should be entitled to public transportation. (Advocacy groups for the disabled community say they deserve access to an on-demand taxi ride to the movies or the mall like any other citizen, instead of having to rely on pre-booked TTC WheelTrans buses).
“Since the Province has mandated that these communities have access to public transportation (under the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), and since the Province has mandated that taxicabs are to be involved in this servicing through municipalities, this now becomes a public transportation initiative and the financial responsibility to provide it is on the cities,” he insists.
He believes this was “always apparent and clearly laid out” in the Province of Ontario Regulation 191/11, Section 79 (3).
But neither the Province, nor the City of Toronto has stepped up over the past quarter century to meet these responsibilities, dropping the cost on its already overburdened taxi industry.
Worse yet, he says it appears the two levels of government “have collusively made sure” neither the City nor any Ontario municipality will have to live up to those financial responsibilities. He alleges the previous Liberal government --without any fanfare -- had Sections 78 (4) and 79 (3) removed as part of a new Ontario Regulation.
“That absolves a municipality from meeting the requirement for accessible taxicab servicing, and the change (was made) without it ever seeing the floor at Queen’s Park, and was done without having even one major stakeholder’s meeting with the people this affects the most, the taxicab industry membership -- proving how untrustworthy our governments can be,” he alleges.
“No one would definitively deal with the issue, and now with our taxi business being taken over by Private Transportation Companies, several hundred of our members who are owner/operators of wheelchair accessible vans are not able to make a living,” he writes.
In way of historical context, Manley relates that to address public transportation service for the physically disabled community, Toronto’s paratransit system was created in 1975 as a two-year-pilot project. In 1977, the TTC took over this service, renaming this division “WheelTrans” two years later. And in 1989, with the demand for accessible servicing beginning to rise, the City decided to contract some of these service requirements out to the cab industry.
With the Province mandating broader public accessible transportation as part of the AODA, in 2014 the City of Toronto proposed turning the entire taxi industry into wheelchair accessible vans by 2024 – a recommendation the taxi industry successfully challenged in Ontario Superior Court.
The City then began issuing new Toronto Taxi License’s (“TTL’s”) instead, and Toronto now has a total of 683 accessible vehicles. And while accessible operators who are part of a brokerage with a TTC contract make a good living, the 353 TTL’s providing strictly “on demand” accessible service have been left in “dire straits”, only made worse by the flood of 90,000 PTC’s on Toronto streets. They’ve found that most people with disabilities still rely on the subsidized TTC WheelTrans “script” program and cannot afford an on-demand cab at the meter rate, while members of the able-bodied community prefer not to climb into these bulky accessible vans for a variety of reasons.
Manley alleges that, “The City acted in bad faith by not explaining to the TTL recipients all of the parameters involved in taking this license – from the cost of purchasing, equipping, and maintaining a wheelchair accessible van, to whether the license owner/operators could even make a living.” (Neither the Province, nor the City has provided any financial purchase incentive on these expensive converted vans, unlike in cities such as Kingston).
“These 353 TTL’s will soon be bankrupt. And it has started already with 34 of those licenses on the shelf at the MLS office. And there will be many more coming, therefore leaving no accessible taxicab service for the disabled communities outside of the TTC WheelTrans program,” he states.
“Why is the pre-booked fare subsidized, and the on-demand service is not?”
Noting that Premier Doug Ford’s campaign promises included, “putting money back in the pockets of all Ontarians”, Manley assures there is little or no money going into the pockets of these taxi industry members.
“This is a serious situation that requires your immediate attention,” he writes to the Premier.
“A provincial intervention is required.”
Manley notes that with 683 out of the total Toronto taxi fleet of 5,204 vehicles now wheelchair accessible vans, that’s over DOUBLE what was recommended in an outside consultant’s report by Taxi Reach Partners, commissioned by the City of Toronto in 2013.
“It should be more than obvious that the City has overstocked,” he says.
By contrast, of the 584 licensed Toronto limousines NONE are wheelchair accessible.
“Considering that every other category mentioned in Chapter 546 is mandated to supply accessible transportation, why isn’t this licensing category mandated to do likewise?” he asks.
And of the 83,000-plus PTC’s on the road, he notes only 35 are wheelchair accessible -- just 0.042 per cent of their fleet.
“Comparing the PTC accessible service requirement to the taxis, Chapter 546 does not contain any acceptable level of proportionality, or fairness,” he comments.
What’s more, he notes, if you check the Yellow Pages or go online, you will find numerous unlicensed private companies providing accessible transportation services. These companies feel they do not need to be municipally licensed due to an exemption in the Ontario Public Vehicles Act, a claim Manley has always challenged.
“The City was notified about this years ago, and never took any action on this most serious issue,” he adds.
Manley is among many cab industry leaders who claim the City granted special concessions to Uber and the other PTC’s in the passing of Chapter 546, as part of a longstanding “hidden agenda” to destroy the value of the Standard taxi plate and deregulate the industry – all the while collecting a healthy 30 cents off every PTC run.
He says while the City initially considered using this PTC licensing fee to help financially support the costs of providing public accessible taxi service, it never did the right thing – instead earmarking these massive revenues for other licensing matters, and enforcement.
This situation has only been made worse by the hotly contested Final Report Recommendation from MLS executive director Carleton Grant, suggesting the rest of the taxi industry pay annually into a $5-million Accessibility Fund to help support TTL operators.
While he “feels sorry for those (TTL) guys,” Manley says they were warned repeatedly against accepting these plates from the City. And he stresses that ALL cab operators could use such financial help, after losing approximately 75 percent of their fares since Uber came to town.
“Since the City issued the on-demand TTL’s and claims ownership of the licenses, they should be supplying the revenue for this fund,” he comments. “And the monies for it are readily available from the 30 cents per trip fee charged to Private Transportation Companies, that from July 15, 2016 to December 31, 2018 amounted to $24,030,115, and growing exponentially.”
He hopes three people will read, and act on his letter -- Premier Doug Ford, Councillor Jaye Robinson (a TTC Board member) and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (who sits on the City’s Accessible Advisory Committee).
He warns that if the City, or Province doesn’t come up with an equitable solution to this problem, in short order, if a member of the disabled community phones into a taxi brokerage looking for an on-demand ride there will be no such service available to them -- this running directly contrary to the goals and dictates of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.