‘I hate the City so much…’
by Mike Beggs
“I never thought it would go this way when Uber, and Lyft came in,” Stephen Hozack tells Taxi News.
But after Uber X cars were allowed to play the streets for three years with virtual impunity (from 2013 to 2016), this veteran owner/operator quit driving in disgust. He realized, “there was no way on earth you could make any money in this business (anymore).”
And what’s more, with cabbies now competing against a sea of 72,000-plus Private Transportation Company (PTC) vehicles, his plate and lease values have been diminished to peanuts.
“I thought we’d be a little protected by the City, and Council,” he fumes. “Uber was working in the city for three years without a license. What other business could do that (and get away with it)? If I’m one day late on my renewal, I pay a penalty.”
Like many taxi operators, he believes the City’s decision to license ridesharing companies -- under a loosened-up bylaw -- was largely motivated by the revenues it now derives from the 30 cents per run fee paid by PTC’s.
“The City doesn’t care – our city is $6 billion short,” he alleges. “And, we could never compete against Uber, a $70-billion corporation. We can’t even sue Uber – you’ve got to leave the country to do that (because their head office is in The Netherlands).”
He’s part of the plate owners’ $1.7-billion-plus class action suit, claiming the City failed to protect their right to make a reasonable living under the new bylaw, and reneged on its’ promise that the Standard plate would be the “taxi driver’s pension”. Plate values have fallen to just $20,000 (from a one-time high of $380,000), and leasing income is a fraction of the $1,800 to $2,000 per month commanded in better times.
“I’m getting $300 a month (for my plate), but I have to pay the renewal -- so I’m getting $225 a month,” he reports. “Can anyone live on $225 a month?
“Listen, things are tough for me. I don’t owe money, but I have to watch what I spend. I’m on a very tight budget. I can’t go away, or anything. I thought in my old age, I’d be out everywhere, but I can’t afford it.”
Things were different when Hozack first entered the business about 50 years back at age 18, driving weekends for his father Bill (with Sunnyside Taxi) . His mother Gladys was a dispatcher with Arrow Taxi.
He drove nights for 15 years, before his father died and passed on his plate. At that point he switched to days, and was on the road for 46 years, in all.
“You could always make money (back then),” he remembers. “And, for a young person it was interesting – the people I met.”
He specialized in the Sunnyside and Parkdale areas, played colourful hotels like the Warwick and the Gladstone, and did his share of runs for Sunnyside’s big accounts (including General Electric, which had a location at Dufferin and King Streets).
“I got one run for parts going from Dufferin and King to their St. Thomas plant,” he muses. “They didn’t want to stop the assembly line. I was told go very quickly. It was one of my biggest fares, over $100.”
Today, he says Toronto has so many VFH vehicles, “it’s unbelievable”.
He levels much of the blame at former long-time councillor Howard Moscoe (“I truly believe he was out to kill the cab business.”), and Mayor John Tory (“I still hate myself for voting for him the first time.”).
For many years, Hozack attended, and often deputated at taxi-related meetings at city hall – but not since the passing of the Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw in July of 2016, which he feels tilts the floor inexorably in favour of Uber, Lyft and the like.
“It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t go down there anymore,” he says. “I don’t waste my time. They just laugh at you.”
While observing that some cabbies have marred the industry image through unprofessional behavior , by and large, he feels “dogs have always been treated better” than taxi drivers.
“We’ve hurt ourselves refusing short fares. But people forget we’re on that cab stand for two hours for a $5 or $6 run, then go back on the stand for another two hours,” he offers.
“I never turned down a fare in 46 years. Unfortunately, things have changed now.”
He feels the City has even bigger issues to address since the licensing of PTC’s – such as heightened congestion, and crime. And he alleges a lot of PTC drivers still aren’t displaying the obligatory identification stickers, rely on GPS to navigate the city, and are parked outside hotels and picking up flags off the street in contravention of the bylaw.
(In January), they caught two Uber drivers driving Under The Influence,” he notes. “Uber says they solved the problem by kicking them off of their app. If I was a cab driver and did that, the City would have had me up before the Tribunal.”
But Hozack, 66, is painfully aware that with the powers granted to it under the City of Toronto Act, “the City can do whatever they want.”
He’s guardedly optimistic about the prospects of the class action suit, which still must go through a certification hearing, from October 15 to 17 in Ontario Superior Court.
“I hate the City so much,” says Hozack, adding the $500 individual plate owners’ contribution to the legal action is a small price to pay for a shot at restitution.