Little hope for honest review of devastated industry
by Mike Beggs
With Tracey Cook’s four-part work plan for reviewing Toronto’s Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw supposed to begin this month, there was little optimism forthcoming from the ranks of the city’s taxi industry.
Not with the executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards already a year behind in this Review, and her final report not expected until the second quarter of 2019.
And not with the City’s dubious history of regulating cabs – which continues under the new bylaw, as taxi interests just keep getting hammered by their Uber, and Lyft counterparts, who clearly operate under a different, less onerous set of rules.
“They won’t do anything. I tell you right now,” says City Taxi owner Avtar Sekhon. “I told (the City), ‘Don’t let us die like this. Pick up a gun and shoot us.”’
In a report passed by the City’s Licensing and Standards Committee on June 14, Cook unveiled a four-part Work Plan for the review of the VFH bylaw, with the results projected to hit L&S Committee in the second quarter of 2019.
She said Phase I will be consultations with stakeholders and the public, slated for the third and fourth quarter of 2018.
“(Still), no consultation meeting has been scheduled. There’s nothing. We are waiting for that meeting,” says iTaxiworkers Association president Sajid Mughal.
Of Cook’s efforts relating to the taxi business thus far, Mughal voices, “Disappointment, disappointment, and more disappointment.”
“She has abandoned the cab industry, because she has achieved her goal -- to accommodate Uber. And that was the goal of our Mayor, as well,” he alleges.
“They don’t care about the cab industry. If we are suffering, we are suffering.”
Co-op/Crown Taxi leasing manager Ernie Grzincic, likewise, has little hope the Review will alleviate much, or any of the stress the industry is under.
“I think Tracey gets her directions from the Mayor. I guess it’s not on the Executive Committee’s agenda,” he alleges.
Independent Toronto Taxi Inc. president Mike Tranquada agrees the City isn’t about to rock the boat.
“No, because they don’t want to give up the $8 million a year they’re getting from Uber (with Private Transportation Companies paying 30 cents per run to the City),” he alleges. “And they’ve turned all of the responsibility of regulation over to them.”
Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard says Cook’s Report is so far behind schedule it’s laughable.
She tells Taxi News, “it’s hard to say” how much substance there will be to the Review. But she is encouraging Beck drivers to raise all issues through the e-mail address the MLS created for them.
Her top priority issues?
“Between concerns for the industry and for our city in general, the lines are blurred,” she comments. “They’ve failed so desperately. As a person who lives in Toronto, I find it frightening.
“I’m very, very concerned that the Executive Committee would be talking Vision Zero (an initiative to reduce downtown gridlock and pollution), meanwhile the same people are inviting 50,000 Uber cars to cruise the streets….You haven’t even reviewed the impact on our city (unlike New York, and Boston).”
Hubbard is still appalled by how the City dismantled its Driver Training School, and Vehicle Inspection Centre under the new bylaw, maintaining it has compromised the standards of drivers, vehicles and public safety. Then, there’s the widespread doubts about Uber’s insurance and driver screening process.
She claims the vast majority of Uber drivers still don’t display the obligatory identification sticker in their vehicles, and, “because (Uber) doesn’t use this sticker in their advertising, nobody knows what it means.”
“In Toronto, we’ve had a string of people posing as Uber drivers,” she says.
Then there was the death of a Toronto man, Hubbard notes, whose Uber driver got in an accident on the Gardiner Expressway, and the stinging deputation of his mother at L&S, who questioned the City’s decision to eliminate consumer safety regulations: “Who thought this was a good idea?”, before concluding, to devastating effect, “I don’t expect a lot from Uber. I do expect a lot from people drafting laws.”
Tranquada is among many who question the level of Police enforcement against Uber and Lyft drivers -- for instance, if they’ve been involved in an accident.
“When they hit insured taxis and limos, they take off,” he alleges. “Our guys have to go to the reporting centre with the license plate number, and Police have to find the insurer. But then they kind of get away with it. The Police don’t follow up.
“All of the different regulations the City put in over the last 40 to 50 years to improve the industry, they’ve all gone right out the window,” he continues.
“They don’t check insurance for the (PTC) cars. It’s not safe for the public. You have 10 inspectors to do 50,000 Ubers, and 12,000 taxis and limos.”
Then, he points to the situation at the Union Station taxi stand.
“The Uber guys, and licensed taxi shift drivers park in front of the stand, and nothing is done,” he relates. “It’s a $500 fine, but who is going to enforce it? Police at 52 Division don’t come down to Union Station anymore.”
Sekhon cites one licensed cab driver who received $830-worth of tickets, including such minor violations as No Run Sheet, and Failing To Post Stickers for No Smoking Allowed in Taxi and No Bicycles Affixed.
“They don’t do anything (to the Uber drivers without stickers),” he alleges.
He’s adamant that all PTC’s should be required to have cameras, “for the safety of the driver and the customer.”
In her June staff report, Cook explained that since May of 2016 MLS staff have been focused on implementing the new regulations, and exercise which has been, “a large and complex undertaking that required significant business transformation, including creating digital solutions and reducing regulatory burden.” And she said there have been a number of directives from Committees and Council to review certain issues, and regulations affecting the vehicle-for-hire industry.
Her Review will include: the development of an Accessibility Strategy and recommendations on how to proceed; the results of a Congestion Management Study’; a Labour Market Impact Study; and recommendations for addressing new and/or outstanding issues.
She said the efforts of some councillors have made some significant changes to what the Review must cover, including: the problems created by handing over enforcement of bylaws to the PTC’s ; public safety issues; ways to financially help TTL drivers and issues of fairness to TTL plate holders; and reexamining the requirement for a Stretch To Sedan ratio for limousines.
While the wheels grind slowly at city hall, cab operators only suffer.
“A lot of the taxi business has (been reduced) to contracts – WheelTrans, WSIB, and charge accounts. That’s the only thing keeping these companies afloat,” says veteran shift driver Jimmy Cooper.
“Uber has already taken what they can out of the taxi business , so it’s just Uber and Lyft fighting it out for that market share.”
When asked if an Uber driver off the street can compare with his 40 years experience, he quips, “I don’t have it according to the City.”
On the prospects of the Review, he muses, “I don’t know, it’s city hall.”
“The City has no respect for the taxi industry, just by bringing in Uber.”
Mughal says taxi drivers are “losing business every single day”, meanwhile the City is making millions from PTC’s.
He notes there has not been a single meeting to address the dire circumstances of TTL drivers. Saddled with the $60,000-plus cost of these wheelchair accessible vehicles, he says it’s “only a matter of time” before they all return their plates to the City.
“So what will the City do to serve the people with disabilities?” he asks. “Why not do something now?”
“It’s not that the taxi industry didn’t want to serve the people with disabilities, but how many wheelchair accessible vehicles do we need -- 200 to 300? But don’t have 700. More than 700 vehicles are accessible, more than half the TTL cars. And compensate the TTL’s, so then they’d be happy to convert these vehicles... For God’s sake, do some action. Don’t sit on this.”
Hubbard suggests the politicians are bewitched by the so-called “Sharing Economy”.
“I hear the councillors say, ‘(Consumers want) choice, and cheap transportation. Are you going to take a cut?” she asks.
She predicts Vancouver will be the next city to cave-in to Uber’s heavy lobbying, and license ridesharing.
“This is the company you choose?” she asks incredulously, citing Uber’s horrific track record over the past two years, which includes a massive global data breach, the use of technology to subvert the authorities, a corporate environment ripe with sexual harassment and discrimination, big questions surroundings its driver background checks, and no less than 103 sexual assault charges against its drivers over the past four years.
She notes that, in Toronto it was written right into the VFH Bylaw that the City will not be held liable for any actions of PTC drivers.
“(That’s) government,” she alleges. “They have no accountability for the decisions they make. Do they ever think of what they’ve done?”
Mississauga plate-holder Peter Pellier suggests “self-regulation is public enemy No. 1 when it comes to health and safety.” And he alleges that for Toronto and cities across the province to capitulate to Uber’s demands for self-regulation is, “a complete and utter abrogation of their fundamental responsibilities, as set forth in the Municipal Act, and in the City of Toronto Act.”
“It begs the question, Why? Why is the Province turning a blind eye to the massive injustice perpetrated against cabbies by municipal regulators?” he asks.
“While granted the authority to license, administer and regulate cabs, clearly municipalities cannot and should not act in a manner contrary to the public interest, as they have with respect to Uber. This lack of engagement on the part of Queen’s Park is no less disturbing than allowing Uber a free pass,” he alleges.
Likewise, Toronto owner/operator Gerry Manley alleges, “It’s deplorable that the Province has not intervened in correcting municipalities for not adhering to their fundamental responsibilities, as well as abusing their authorities in the area of taxi industry and Private Transportation Company municipal licensing,” even after these abuses have been thoroughly documented.