Industry fumes over deteriorating state of taxi business while City turns its back
by Mike Beggs
So, is there any sign of Tracey Cook’s report on the horizon?
“None. It doesn’t exist,” says Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard, citing informed conjecture from around city hall.
This was subsequently confirmed in a Toronto Star story in mid-October, where Cook said her one-year review of the new Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw has taken a back seat to more pressing issues like Air B’nB, pot shops, and short term rentals, and won’t be released any time soon.
“They say they’re consumed with other issues,” Hubbard offers. “They’re just moving on to the next thing.”
“I guess they don’t care, or they’re just catering to the other people -- that’s what it is,” chimes in Peter’s Taxi owner Peter Mandronis, a 55-year veteran of the industry.
Mike Tranquada, president of Independent Toronto Taxi Inc. believes there’s more than meets the eye.
“It wouldn’t take Tracey Cook that long to do a report. She’s just stalling,” he alleges. “The Mayor (John Tory) is telling her exactly what to do.”
iTaxiworkers Association president Mohammed “Reza” Hosseinioun rages about Cook’s failure, heretofore, to answer to the status of the report, which was supposed to have been delivered in July.
“She has not been having meetings with anyone in the industry,” he says. “Come on! You know how much in licensing fees we’re paying to this City. What kind of City is this?
“The Toronto Star story scares me,” he continues. “While this Mayor is in power, he won’t let anything change in the taxi industry. We are just wasting our time.”
Veteran driver Gary Walsh suggests Cook hasn’t filed her report, because she would have to account for any number of question marks surrounding Uber X – pertaining to insurance, safety, and street hails.
“They’d have to look at the issue of putting all these ads out telling people you can only hail licensed cabs (when Uber drivers are taking hails as well),” he alleges. “She’s not willing to do that, I don’t think.”
And while the City has seen fit to close down its driver training school and inspection facility, Beck Taxi has set up its own driver training school out of Centennial College.
“I’d quit before sending untrained drivers out there,” Hubbard says. “You can’t offer safe service if you don’t care about certification.
“That the City of Toronto hands taxi driver licenses out like candy is disgusting to me. And we’re picking up the pieces.”
She points to other failures, like with traffic congestion. While the City has earmarked this as a top priority issue, she notes it granted open entry to Uber – and now there are 50-60,000 Uber X cars saturating the streets.
“It’s without accountability. It isn’t even something I consider (anymore),” she comments. “That’s true about anything that they do.”
“They’re not following the requirement of Council. Why would they talk to us? If my boss told me to write a report, and I was four months late with it (I’d be worried about my job.).”
And while Uber claims it is “disrupting” the taxi industry with its app technology, she alleges, “It’s not a disruption of the industry, it’s a disruption of the government. Uber was brilliant in framing it as a Taxi-Uber war.”
“Disruptive? They’re putting people out of business, it’s a bunch of cab drivers – you can’t get any lower than that,” Tranquada interjects. “And it’s not even new technology. I saw this technology 15 years ago (to track where the cars are, how fast they’re traveling, etc.).”
Hosseinioun was shocked by the double standard, when after dropping a fare off at the Island Airport, he was shooed off the grounds, only to see an Uber car waiting for a pickup.
“I told the authorities, and they said Uber drivers, they can wait 10 minutes,” he relates.
“Nobody has any idea what’s going on in this city. The taxi industry, we should take the City to court. This isn’t acceptable.”
He alleges that Uber not only found an easy landing spot for its illicit operations in Toronto in 2013, but now, “they are writing the bylaw”, while all the while “exploiting” their drivers by taking 25 percent off the top of each fare.
And he suggests Tory has managed to muzzle the media about all this.
“If this government gets reelected, this industry is finished,” he adds.
With Beck, a 27-year night driver named Richard says business is, “very bad”.
He claims, because there are “no rules” on Uber, they are “taking everything from us”, while clogging up the inner city streets.
“How come all of the Uber drivers in Mississauga, and Oakville all come downtown?” he asks. “They don’t have any business coming here to fish. We can’t go to Mississauga and take fares.”
He warns the city fathers that, “Deregulation is not the right thing to do. This is not a Banana Republic.”
A leading proponent of legal action against the City, veteran driver Gary Walsh points out that, “Tracey Cook, she’s an ex-cop . She damn well knows the importance of safety. And, the City of Toronto is on the hook if something bad happens.
“I think once they get into a court, they’re cooked,” he adds. “No one has taken the proactive stance to get them in the courts.”
Long-time owner Andy Reti is disgusted with the whole situation.
“It’s not just the (Cook) report. That’s going to do absolutely nothing,” he says “What the hell is wrong with us, all of us? I am angry with the membership (for not taking action).”
He maintains Uber couldn’t have been here if the City hadn’t let it, and that, “We could have taken (the City) to court from Day 1.
“There’s no question the City was tacitly approving (the operation of Uber X outside the bylaw),” he alleges. “The City wanted to deregulate the taxi industry for the past seven decades. Here comes Uber, and the City can do it without spending their money -- and have Uber give it money at the same time.
“No one can achieve anything without help. So the City has accomplished a lot.”
Tranquada reminds that he and several other industry leaders met with a fairly big Toronto law firm a few years back, and were told they had a winnable case – but to take it all the way to the Supreme Court would cost them between $500,000 and $1million (given that the City would likely appeal any Lower Court decision).
“They told us as long as the City was complicit in setting up regulating the industry and having people pay for plates, and $5,000 transfer fees (we had a case,)” he relates. “They set the system up, and can’t legally turn around and destroy the system – because we followed (their rules).
“Their legal opinion was, if the City was going to open the system up like that, they should have bought the plates back -- because some guys mortgaged their houses to buy their plates.”
However, Hubbard suggests such legal action would be a losing battle.
“I think you’d have to establish that the City was acting in bad faith, and there is no way to do that,” she offers. “We know they don’t care. But in all of their very well-thought-out phraseologies , they said they were doing what’s best for our city in a safe and responsible way. Whether that happened doesn’t matter.
“And this City is so well-protected by the City of Toronto Act, it’s unbelievable,” she adds. “They’re not accountable . How can you prosecute somebody who’s not accountable? The City of Toronto is not responsible for its own actions.”
For his part Reti suggests, “Take them to court. Let a Judge decide.”