Grieving mother lambastes City for abdicating role in safety regulation of vehicle-for-hire industry: ‘Who thought this was a good idea?’
by John Q. Duffy
It took a grieving mother to grab the attention of the Licensing and Standards Committee.
Cheryl Hawkes told the committee on Thursday, June 18, that her adult son, Nicholas Cameron was killed while riding in an Uber-dispatched car.
She said the driver pulled over to the side of the Gardiner Expressway, then pulled into traffic where the car was hit by another vehicle, killing the 26-year old passenger.
She said the Uber driver has been charged with Criminal Negligence Causing Death as well as other charges.
Hawkes told the committee she has learned the City has stopped safety training for cab drivers.
“Who thought this was a good idea?” she asked.
She also mentioned the women in the US who alleged they were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers and are now going to court to at last publicize how the company deals with these criminal situations.
She commented several times, “Friends don’t let friends take Uber.”
Hawkes vehemently asked the City to tighten up the rules and enforcement of how Uber and its drivers operate.
“I don’t expect a lot from Uber,” she said. “I do expect a lot from people drafting laws.”
When asked by Councillor Janet Davis if she thinks the City should be reexamining how Uber is regulated, Hawkes was adamant, saying, “Absolutely!”
She thinks people who drive others around for money should be held to a higher standard of public service.
Later, Municipal Licensing and Standards Executive Director Tracey Cook, in response to a question, informed the committee that complaints or problems with Uber drivers are referred to the company to be dealt with, and MLS staff does not get involved.
The City does not track or have any records about the number or types of complaints the public has with Uber rides or its drivers.
As a direct result of this deputation, among other things, the committee requested that the new review of the taxi industry include ways to “increase public safety and the training requirements of Private Transportation Companies”, and create “a new public reporting process to City Council and the public on the safety records and performance of PTC license holders and companies.”
Deputations from 13 members of the taxi or limousine industries were heard by the committee. There were two citizen deputants.
Most dealt with the real life problems the industry is facing today, largely as a result of what they call unfair PTC competition and the high costs of operating accessible vehicles.
Sajid Mughal, President of the iTaxiworkers Association of Ontario, bitterly complained about the overdue Council-ordered review of the 2016 bylaw changes. He accused Cook, who he said is on the “Sunshine List” of City employees earning more the $100,000 a year of not caring about the industry.
He was halted by committee Chair Councillor Cesar Palacio, who objected to these comments about a staff member. Mughal apologized, but reiterated “it has been two years. Two years have gone by.”
He asked the committee to think of people who are in the taxi industry who are suffering under the new set of rules. “Put yourself in their shoes,” he pleaded. “They are in a desperate situation.”
Iraj Izaddoustdar told the committee about the high purchase price ($70,000) and operating costs of accessible vehicles and their lack of popularity with able-bodied passengers.
Murtuza Gowher called the TTL program, as it was envisioned by the City in 2016, a “bait and switch program.” People signed up for one thing and then got another. He said all TTL licenses should be converted into the original Standard licenses.
Francis Washington was blunt. “We are not happy,” he said. “We are very serious. We are very miserable. We are not making any money. I’m begging you to help us.”
Asked why taxis aren’t making money Washington replied, “Because people don’t like the (accessible) vehicles. Especially women.”
Behrouz Khamseh stated, “You are not enforcing the law. Why not?”
Joe Ironi of the Ontario Limousine Owners Association asked that limousine companies be freed from the requirement for having stretch limousines, as they are simply not needed by customers any more.
And so it went, with driver after driver stressing the difficulties they face and the unfairness of the present laws governing for hire vehicle businesses.
One person from the disabled community spoke to the committee.
Emily Daigle, who uses a wheelchair, stated the disabled “need taxi services in this City.” She also said these services need to be “affordable.”
Asked about Uber services she was blunt. “Uber sucks.”
After questions of staff and motions were debated, the committee decided to ask that the new review be given “priority” and be “expedited” and “give particular consideration to the issues related to Toronto Taxicab Licenses (TTL), including: a. providing financial and other incentives to support the purchase and operation of TTL vehicles and increasing the number of on-demand metered accessible taxicabs; b. providing the option to those currently holding TTL to revert to standard taxicab licenses when their vehicles reach their maximum age; and c. (suggest) other measures to increase the availability and use of accessible, on-demand vehicles.”
Furthermore, MLS was asked to include in the new report “consideration of all measures to increase public safety and the training requirements of Private Transportation Companies (PTC) and other vehicles-for-hire; a new public reporting process to City Council and the public on the safety records and performance of PTC license holders and companies; a review of the limousine provisions, including the stretch-to-sedan ratio; suggestions on how to assist fleet operators and Standard taxicab owners as to the financial sustainability within the vehicles-for-hire industry; and consultations with fleet operators and standard taxicab owners.”
A motion by Councillor Jim Karygiannis to order a temporary halt of all Uber operations in Toronto was ruled out of order.
As it now stands, consultations will happen in the third and fourth quarters of this year with a target date for the finished report in the second quarter of 2019.
In the staff report outlining the work plan, MLS said since 2016, when the new rules came into effect, it has concentrated on “implementing the new regulations. The implementation of the new Bylaw has been a large and complex undertaking that required significant business transformation, including creating digital solutions and reducing regulatory burden.”
The new report will include, besides the new directions passed at L&S, “An accessibility strategy and recommendations on how to proceed, the results of a Congestion Management Study and a Labour Market Impact Study and recommendations for addressing new and/or outstanding issues.”
Staff has a “four-phase plan” with Phase One doing public consultations and launching studies, Phase Two Executing Studies and Internal Research, Phase 3 Final Analysis and Phase Four the Report to Committee.
A motion brought by Councillor Janet Davis titled “Fairness for Toronto Taxicab License Holders” was referred to MLS for consideration in its new review.
A motion from Councillor Karygiannis dealing with accessible taxi service was also referred to staff to be dealt with in the new report.