‘How many nails can they put in our coffin?’
This month’s Cover Cab says he and his fellow TTL operators are being driven into the grave by the City of Toronto’s unsustainable regulatory regime
by Mike Beggs
“I came into this business with a different vision,” Toronto Taxi License holder Murtuza (“Latif”) Gowher says, despondently.
When he started driving cab 25 years back, it wasn’t easy, he says, but at least he could make a living. He now finds himself tethered to a TTL plate and pricey wheelchair accessible van, and says it’s “worse than brutal” -- the conditions only exacerbated by the “insane competition” from almost 70,000 Uber X and other Private Transportation Company (PTC) vehicles.
“We’re at the bottom of the barrel of the taxi industry”,” he laments about his TTL.
The purchase price of these modified vans is a steep $65,000 to $80,000. And according to Gowher, he spends $300 a week on gas (on this heavier vehicle), while repairs are 30 percent higher than with a regular cab.
To make ends meet, this 52-year-old native of India now finds himself working 14 hour days.
“It’s very hard for me,” he tells Taxi News. “I have two kids going to college and university. It’s tough. I pay $900 a month just for the vehicle financing.”
Gowher maintains TTL drivers are victims of a vicious double whammy—with the City having created a two-tier system between both Standard and TTL plate holders, and between Uber and the taxi industry (under the 2016 Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw).
“Isn’t that crazy?” he asks. “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.”
Gowher notes that TTL’s rarely get flags off the street, and while classified as “dual purpose vehicles”, they are routinely bypassed by able-bodied customers when first up on the cab stand.
“Do you believe that? We lose customers. They go by us, ‘We don’t need a van,” he relates. “A lot of people think these vehicles are for those with disabilities only, because they see the (handicapped) sticker.”
What’s more, many able-bodied riders have difficulty stepping into these higher vehicles.
“On one occasion, I went to somebody’s residence and had to call them to send a regular van,” he recalls.
Through his brokerage, Gowher claims to receive only about one Accessible order a month.
“It’s mandatory for TTL drivers to be affiliated with a brokerage,” he emphasizes. “That’s not fair, because the brokerages are getting guaranteed money (from WheelTrans) without providing the accessible vehicles (for the TTL drivers).
“And we are the only ones who still have to go to the (Driver) Refresher course,” he continues. “Do you believe that? How many nails are they going to put in our coffin?”
What’s more, while TTL’s were created to address the stricter dictates of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, ironically, many of those within the disabled community aren’t taking TTL’s either.
“Most people with disabilities, they rely on subsidized WheelTrans service,” he says. “Quite frankly, a lot of them can’t afford a taxi.”
Gowher stresses that back in 2014 when Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards came out with a staff report recommending the introduction of TTL’s, the plan included a City subsidy on the purchase of these vans (by charging Uber 30 cents on every run, and regular cab drivers 10 cents a run) – which he alleges the City has simply “ignored”.
“That was the proposal, but it died in the report. The 10 cents died. The 30 cents survived, they’re collecting millions of dollars from Uber (but it’s not being passed on to the TTL drivers as promised),” he alleges.
Long-time owner/operator Gerry Manley has taken up this issue at several levels of government, on behalf of TTL holders.
“It is unbelievable to me that the Province would mandate a public transportation service to the disabled community, and in making it a municipal responsibility, allow the municipality to put the entire cost of this mandated program on the shoulders of private enterprise, as is the case with the on-demand servicing of Toronto’s disabled community,” he comments. “Yet the City refuses to respond to the taxi industry’s inquiries on this issue – and for the past four years (until recently), so has the Province.”
And while Toronto now has 550 TTL’s on the streets, (when many say 50 would be ample to meet the demand), according to the MLS, out of the sea of Uber X vehicles on Toronto streets, just 32 are wheelchair accessible!
And Gowher suggests Uber X drivers get away with more on the road, because Uber is, for all intents and purposes, self-regulated in Toronto.
“I’ve been to Queen’s Park, and a lot of Uber drivers are charged for not carrying a safety in their vehicle, and not having a PTC driver’s license, but they’re still registered on the Uber platform. How is that possible?” he asks.
Gowher was co-organizer of a group representing the interests of TTL drivers a few years back, before they joined forces with the iTaxiworkers Association.
He notes iTaxi is part of the proposed $1.7-billion class action suit filed by taxicab owners against the City of Toronto, and that TTL plate-holders are considering a legal action of their own. (He says iTaxi has received official confirmation from the Province that it’s the City of Toronto’s financial responsibility to live up to the terms of the AODA, not that of the taxi industry).
But Gowher has another solution. He suggests the City should give TTL holders the chance to convert their plates to a Standard, and then issue the appropriate number of Accessible plates to drivers on the waiting list.
“That way, they know they’re getting an Accessible vehicle. There are no surprises,” he reasons.
And while the value of the Standard plate has plummeted to around $30,000, he claims he would still be better off under this scenario.
“The value may be down, but we’d still be on a level playing field with a regular Standard plate,” he says. “We could buy a regular car. It would be easier for us to hire a driver, and to lease out the plate. And at least we could sell the plate for $30,000. Right now, the TTL is worth zero.”
But for the time being, TTL drivers are stuck in a totally untenable position – with new governments just elected at Toronto City Hall and Queen’s Park, and the long-delayed MLS VHF Bylaw Review not slated to hit Council until the spring of 2019.
“I know about a dozen TTL drivers out there who are 75,” he adds. “(As it stands now), we are going to take the plate to the grave.”