Industry veterans ‘disgusted’ by total failure of government to effectively regulate vehicles-for-hire
by Mike Beggs
No taxi items surfaced on the March 6 agenda of Toronto’s Licensing & Standards Committee.
And while taxi interests have long taken a back seat at city hall, since the licensing of Uber last summer under the new Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw, taxi issues seem to have fallen off the City’s radar.
The industry’s leading figure in fighting for justice, long-time owner/operator Gerry Manley continues to receive a deaf ear 10 months after he began making regular inquiries pertaining to the many perceived inequities and injustices under the new bylaw, despite the fact Mayor John Tory promised to create a level playing field between taxis and Uber X vehicles.
In early March, Manley received a brief reply from a direct query to Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director Tracey Cook, who said she would look into his list of issues and get back to him.
However at press time, he had still not received any further communications. Meanwhile, Cook’s one-year Review of the new bylaw is expected in May.
“I’m disappointed. But, I’m not surprised,” he says. “I wouldn’t be confident she will have her response by May.
“With all the stuff I’ve brought up, they don’t have a response. It’s because I’ve caught them -- it’s not a matter of, they can’t answer me.”
Manley has posed numerous specific, serious questions surrounding licensing fees, insurance requirements and vehicle replacement, among other issues, under the new bylaw. And for several months, he has been staging a one-man protest, refusing to pay the new $130 Driver’s Fee imposed on all taxi owners and also withholding his annual $1,000-plus plate renewal fee.
The news of Cook’s prompt initial reply was encouraging to some.
“At this stage, she has no choice but to answer his questions,” suggests veteran owner Andy Reti. “He has done the research. He has certainly taken a giant step. It can unravel a lot of other things, with the many issues he has brought forward.”
But will Manley’s fellow industry members follow his lead and actively press the City for answers?
“Are you kidding?” he says. “These are the same people who wouldn’t take a dollar out of their pocket to protect their $250,000 investment.”
Driver Gary Walsh agrees it’s a step forward, getting Cook to at least acknowledge receipt of Manley’s many questions concerning the City’s troubling new bylaw.
“Yes. (He’s) demanding answers,” he says.
According to Manley, “There are some issues that need immediate attention and cannot wait until the Review commences.”
But he notes there is no guarantee the City’s promised Review will take place on schedule.
Manley started sending out e-mails to MLS staff last June, seeking an explanation for the “licensing and fee disparities”. He has also contacted Licensing & Standards committee chair Cesar Palacio, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing Bill Mauro, and Minister Of Finance Charles Sousa, with no direct replies to his pressing questions.
“It is well overdue that all councillors at Toronto council wrap their heads around the seriousness regarding this bylaw and stand up and protect our over 10,000 members that they represent,” he wrote in one missive.
Regarding the new Private Transportation Company (PTC) licensing category, he alleges, “How the City set up this category in the bylaw is nothing short of criminal.
“Although Uber must pay an annual brokerage licensing fee, that is where it ends,” he writes. “Their operators have been incorrectly categorized as drivers (instead of owners) who do not require any municipal license whatsoever, yet are governed by the same bylaw as all of the other categories there-in. All that is paid on their behalf is a $15 registration fee from Uber for each operator using its system.”
According to Manley, the City’s decision to grant Uber an unlimited number of vehicles operating in the marketplace, “has not only destroyed the taxi industry, but constitutes a violation of a fundamental social contract that has been in place for decades.”
A director of the iTaxiworkers Association, Mohammed “Reza” Hosseinioun deems the new bylaw’s complete disregard for the interests of the taxi industry, “disgusting”.
Like Manley he notes that it was promised that taxi owner/operator licensing costs would come down, in the end, while Standard plate renewal fees were reduced from $1,279 to $1,062, those savings were all but offset by the introduction of the new $130 Driver’s Fee.
“I don’t understand how they are calculating this, and now there is no driver training or refresher course and no (City operated vehicle inspections). All this money, where is it going?” he demands. “That is my question to the Commission.”
The iTaxiworkers has also created a panel to investigate what research the City did into how many PTC licenses Toronto’s population would support.
“Usually in a big city like Toronto, they will do something like they did (during the 2012 Review) when they consulted with Dr. James Cooper, and the industry groups had meetings with him. The point is (the plate issuing numbers) were supported by a study,” he says.
“And the City didn’t make any provisions for accessible service by Uber X vehicles (either).”
According to Reza’s latest findings, the City of Toronto has now issued approximately 36,000 PTC licenses.
“Can you imagine?” he asks in astonishment.
“My question for the City is, how do we do business? Secondly, what are they doing with the enforcement? At every corner, there are four or five Uber X cars. In the afternoon and the morning, you wouldn’t believe it, the traffic is incredible.”
“In Liberty Village we never had traffic, now it’s bumper to bumper.”
He estimates that for every five cars out there, three are PTC’s .
“They are not supposed to pick up at taxi stands. Come down to Union Station, and hundreds (of Uber drivers) drop in,” he adds. “The City doesn’t do anything. We don’t see anything of the City trying to ticket these guys.”
Like Manley, the iTaxi has written numerous letters to the City, and received no answers.
Best Choice Taxi owner Andy Sangha concurs, “No, they’re not doing anything.
“The Province? They should be. But, I don’t think there’s any hope for that.”
Based out of Rexdale, his brokerage has suffered like everyone else in Toronto’s taxi industry.
“It’s really bad. We know when people call for a taxi and ask the price and say, ‘Oh no, Uber is less.’ We try to (explain) what the situation is, but nobody cares,” he relates.
“We get a lot of airport runs in the morning, and now not much else during the rest of the day.”
A veteran driver named Jhalman says business is the worst he has ever seen it.
He went to a few meetings at city hall last year, but found them to be pretty much useless.
“It’s all corruption,” he alleges. “That’s why they keep their mouths shut (at city hall). That’s all. They don’t want to do anything (to help), they just want to get rid of the taxis.”
Mississauga resident Joel Poirier is one citizen fully sympathetic to the licensed taxi drivers’ situation.
“If it was any other industry, they’d have squashed (Uber) like a fly,” he says. “It’s like scab labour, that’s exactly what it is. Imagine if you were a doctor or a lawyer and somebody wanted to do your job for half the price, and without the right insurance?”
Mississauga owner Peter Pellier observes that in the war against Uber, “It’s game over in Toronto, Oakville, and Hamilton, but we still have some shred of hope here in Mississauga.”
But not much. In late March, Mississauga Council approved Mayor Bonnie Crombie’s motion finalizing the parameters of an 18-month pilot project for Uber X vehicles.
Former Mayor Hazel McCallion had written the Province appealing for immediate intervention when Uber first appeared in Mississauga. But under Crombie’s mayoralty, that ball has been dropped. And the Province’s only actions have been to approve a new form of hybrid insurance for Uber X drivers, through Intact.
“I guess the Province has no intention of intervening,” Pellier comments. “They haven’t said a peep about Uber. Why would they get involved in intervening for the taxi industry? Not with this government.”
“You’d think that this would generate some involvement from the Province, but nothing. Just nothing. I’m basically appalled by them.”
Pellier adds, “The abject failure of the powers that be to enforce even a little bit of justice for cab drivers has made me a different person.
“All of us, particularly the old-timers, we’re really, really angry. And how can you not be angry?” he asks.