In face of economic chaos and personal tragedy, politicians march blithely on
by Mike Beggs
The latest rumour going around Toronto city hall suggests there will be no sign of the one-year Review of the new Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw until 2019.
Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director Tracey Cook’s report is already more than a year overdue, and may be the taxi industry’s last real shot at affecting meaningful changes in the bylaw through legislative channels. However, their regulator’s dubious record on the taxi file down through the decades has left many taxi industry leaders with no faith in what’s forthcoming in this paper.
“Oh God, no,” says long-time owner Andy Reti. “Whoever is waiting on that report is dreaming in technicolour. The longer it takes, the more entrenched Uber and Lyft is. What is anybody expecting out of this report?”
He, like many, believes the City has used the cab industry as a cash cow for ages, and that with Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) like Uber and Lyft it has now found a bigger cash cow with some 60,000 Uber X cars paying it 30 cents per run. And with PTC’s granted unlimited entry into the Toronto market, this lucrative revenue stream will, potentially, just keep growing.
Reti suggests the City isn’t about to rock Uber’s boat.
“When Hailo first came in it was 100 percent bylaw compliant, so why did we get rid of Hailo and replace it with Uber?” he asks. “It doesn’t matter how you slice it, it always comes back to the question of money.”
Forty-seven years on the road, independent Aldo Marchese alleges, “They just don’t care about us (at city hall).” He’s among many who openly challenge Mayor John Tory’s promise of a level playing field between taxis and PTC’s under the new bylaw, and put the report’s delay down to the Mayor’s influence.
“John Tory told her not to give out any reports, whatsoever,” he alleges. “She’s taking orders from him. It’s a fact. How can they protect Uber, and not protect us? (To think), the money we’re paying the City of Toronto, and they don’t care about us.”
Marchese is among many who say they won’t be attending any more Licensing & Standards Committee, or Council meetings, “because it’s a lost cause.”
Veteran driver Festus Egwuenu, similarly, has no hope for the Cook report.
“Tracey Cook is not going to do anything. She has no power to do it. We don’t need to know Ms. Cook’s objectives.”
Peter’s Taxi owner Peter Mandronis, on the other hand, is taking a wait and see attitude towards the Review.
“I’m hoping they do the right thing for the sake of the taxi industry. What else can I say?” he comments.
But of the delay, he adds, “There’s always an excuse. It’s just to stall it on the back burner. I’m hoping they might have something by March or April, but who knows?
“It doesn’t take that long to write a report. I think you could do it in three, or four weeks. You have the staff there, if there’s the will.”
With the City responding to none of his inquiries about the status of the Review, Taxi Action president Behrouz Khamseh surmises that, “If they review the whole bylaw, then a lot of that stuff will come up. That’s exactly what they’re trying to do (kill the taxi industry).”
ITaxiworkers Association president Sajid Mughal alleges that the vast majority of the 60,000 Uber X cars don’t have the proper commercial insurance, nor the identification sticker they are mandated to display, but hard-done-by taxi operators have, “no door to knock on” to pursue this.
“The Mayor is giving a deaf ear to the cab industry,” he says. “Cab drivers are suffering every day in Toronto.”
According to Mughal, Cook was supposed to report on some bylaw items within six months, and others within a year.
“But it’s almost two years ago, and she hasn’t reported about anything,” he adds. “She was supposed to report about the TTC, and cameras. I have no idea what she’s doing.”
“And how many sexual assaults have there been in Toronto in three or four years of Uber?”
Responding to complaints about driver working conditions, and passenger safety, Uber is now requiring its drivers to take a six-hour break between long shifts. Its’ app will now automatically log them off after 12 hours of driving.
Owner/operator Gerry Manley observes that these measures bring Uber drivers more in line with Toronto’s VHF bylaw, where taxi drivers cannot work more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period.
“But presently, that bylaw restriction does not include PTC drivers. So perhaps it’s time to make the bylaw change to include them, so as to legally protect the consumers,” he says.
Meanwhile, questions persist about PTC driver background checks, and the absence of mandatory security cameras in these cars, given the high number of sexual assaults, and other disturbing crimes being attributed to Uber drivers.
The latest such incident occurred in early February, when a 36-year-old Uber Eats driver in Atlanta allegedly shot and killed one of his customers. Police say at about 11:30 p.m., the driver made a delivery to a home in a condominium complex. The customer and the driver reportedly exchanged words after payment for the food, at which point the delivery driver fired several shots.
Uber bars both drivers and riders from carrying firearms in the vehicles, “to the extent permitted by applicable law.”
To this news, Manley comments, “Isn’t it amazing that areas all over the world have had many brutal acts committed against the general public (by these drivers), yet governments continue to let Uber and like companies enter their jurisdictions with little or no requirements to follow any rules, regulations or laws at any level of government.
“And even when laws are drafted for these companies, governments bend over backwards to give them special consideration, without any concern as to what the end results will be on industries that have spent decades building their businesses and following the rules,” he says.
And he emphasizes that, “Since the orders Uber Eats delivers are either by car, or in some cases bicycle (which are considered vehicles in Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act), I’m wondering why these operators are not required to have a City of Toronto business license, requiring vehicle checks and police background checks?”
Closer to home, a Waterloo Uber driver faces several charges relating to the alleged sexual assault of a woman in his car, in early February. According to Police, the woman took an Uber home at 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday to east Waterloo, and when he reached the destination the driver allegedly assaulted her. She managed to struggle free and run to safety.
An Uber spokesperson told CBC the allegations were “deeply upsetting”, and that, “As soon as this was reported to us, we removed the driver’s access to the app. We have provided information to the Waterloo Regional Police Service and will continue to fully support their investigation.”
To this Hamilton taxi owner/operator Hans Wienhold scoffed.
“Just wait until something happens, and then remove the driver from the platform. Talk about a dirt cheap (and brilliant) way of avoiding any liability for the business model our politicians have aided and abetted,” he writes in his BlockRants blog.
Wienhold wonders why he hasn’t heard of one Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area politician acknowledging that, “in their zeal to embrace the future they might have forgotten to consider the impact of endorsing a taxi service which operates anonymously, due to their lack of identifying numbers and decals.”
“So now, we have this new taxi brokerage that attracts a huge turnover of amateur taxi drivers who think Uber-ing is a great way to pay off their gym memberships, student loans, or to meet a bunch of drunken chicks instead of staying home and (watching) internet porn. And all the while they’re destroying the livelihood of thousands of individuals who just want to earn a living as cab drivers. What could go wrong?”
Mandronis agrees, “You’ve got to feel for the cab driver when he’s out there obeying the bylaw, and you have somebody on a part-time basis scooping their fare in front of them. Lately they’re cruising the streets hoping somebody flags them. They’re not supposed to, but of course nobody is policing them.”
Conducting his own comprehensive review of the VFH bylaw last month, Manley concluded that the City’s claims of creating a level playing field between taxis and PTCs are balderdash. He identified no less than 51 sections of the bylaw and three appendixes which would need amendment to achieve that balance.
And alleging that the bylaw stands in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms Equality Rights and several other statutes, he believes the industry’s only remaining recourse lies in legal action.