Mayor Tory’s ‘level playing field’ drains directly into City’s coffers, complain beleaguered taxi operators
by Mike Beggs
The lengthy delay in the one-year Staff review of Toronto’s new Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw has hung taxi operators even further out to dry if that’s possible.
The continuing delay of this report by Municipal Licensing & Standards (MLS) executive director Tracey Cook now reportedly put off until 2019 Ð comes with cabby revenues decimated by about 50 percent, and Standard plate values driven down to around $90,000 (the so-called “taxi driver’s pension” not amounting to much in these inflationary times).
“It’s no use,” says long-time independent Zewgu, outside the central bus depot on Edward Street.
Sometimes he sits for two or three hours on the stand between fares. He figures Uber and other Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) will remain popular, because people are now used to their app-based service, “and they are cheaper than us.”
And cab drivers? “(We’re treated as) just a bunch of immigrants,” he says. “The police are after us. The City is after us. We are second-class citizens.”
Now 65, the father of three plans to retire soon. He sold his plate a year ago for just $65,000.
“It’s the worst case Mayor we’ve had in this city,” he alleges. “Maybe Rob Ford was bad himself, but he was very good for the people. (John) Tory is a business guy. He only sits for the rich people. He takes it away from the poor, as much as he can.”
Mohammed, a fellow independent complains, “There’s no business. This is the worst.”
“The only solution now is to sell my plate and live on what it gets. I’m 65, now.”
He points out that while cabbies have always paid through the nose for insurance, “at the beginning, the City let Uber guys drive around without any insurance. (This went on for about four years, before the Province approved a “ridesharing insurance” policy in July of 2016, developed by Intact Financial Corporation in partnership with Uber Canada).
A Beck Taxi driver in the lineup observes, “Ontario is in a recession, everybody doesn’t have money like before.”
And of the Mayor’s promised “level playing field”, he says, “Instead of improving the taxi industry’s business, he has made it worse.”
“Even the Third World is better than what has happened here.”
Of equal concern is how the standards of driver, vehicles, and safety have been compromised under the VFH bylaw (with no mandatory security cameras in PTC’s). But by most accounts, the greatest blow to the industry’s fortunes has been the City’s decision to grant PTC’s open access to the Toronto taxi market, garnering millions of dollars in new fees for City coffers while utterly devastating taxi drivers’ income. This amounts to deregulation, say the City’s critics, a regulatory strategy that has repeatedly proven to be an economic disaster in numerous cities around the world.
Independent Toronto Taxi Inc. president Mike Tranquada alleges the MLS is “just stalling and stalling and stalling” on the report, and meanwhile there’s “no enforcement” against the sea of Uber X drivers.
He claims that, because they’re relying on their GPS navigation systems, unschooled Uber X drivers can be found creeping along at a snail’s pace downtown, cutting across three lanes of traffic at the last second to make a turn, or going the wrong way up a one-way street, “forcing us to slam our brakes on.”
“And what does the Uber driver get if the police stop them?” he scoffs.
While police have yet to reveal who was at fault, Tranquada considers the recent traffic fatality on the Gardiner Expressway involving an Uber X driver and a private car is just another example of how the standards have slipped.
“Of course. The City of Toronto has thrown the (old) bylaw out the window to accommodate Uber,” he alleges. “They can say anything they want about enforcement.”
“The only people who will do something (about this) is the courts,” he continues. “Until the owners take them to court there’s going to be nothing done, and the Uber guys will be driving along at 10 to 20 kilometres an hour and making rash turns. That’s why Uber keeps advertising for drivers. Do you see Beck advertising for drivers?”
Owner/operator Gerry Manley agrees the new bylaw fails to address the fact that, “these drivers have no experience in driving for hire, and it is not as easy as it may seem.
“They have little knowledge about the streets in the city, the points of interest, the shortest route to take, are not used to driving for hours in heavy traffic, and quite possibly have not registered all of the documentation required,” he alleges.
He underscores the fact that these Private Transportation Companies are, “for the most part, self-regulated.”
“So, in reality, the City can never confirm what vehicles operate within this app, or that they have filed the required documentation,” he alleges. “Many questions need to be answered about this system.”
(Uber, Lyft and the like are supposed to supply copies of three required certificates to Toronto MLS Ð insurance, a driver background check, and a mechanical safety certificate. The MLS then sends a PTC driver’s license back to the PTC, allowing the driver to work on their app).
City Taxi assistant GM Neil Shorey shares serious concerns that, “Nobody to this day has been shown written proof that Uber drivers are meeting their insurance requirements, by notifying their private insurers that they are using their vehicle for commercial purposes!”
And, Manley suggests, the unlimited entry granted to PTC’s has opened up a whole Pandora’s Box of problems.
“In my opinion, the licensing revenues (now amounting to approximately $500,000 a month from PTCs alone) is the only thing the City really cares about,” he alleges. “And, that definitely extends to the heavy ticketing of taxi drivers at times of the day when they are exempted from Mayor Tory’s (strict) no stopping restrictions during rush hour.”
“That’s just a shame,” concurs Shaw Taxi owner Javid Wali. “They are bullying the little guy, these officers, for any simple thing.
“I think this is the No. 1 question we are facing. (Premier hopeful) Doug Ford is a friend of the taxi industry and he knows the industry very well. I hope he will do somethingÉ Unfortunately, we’ve lost faith in the city politicians.”
Taxi industry spirits were dampened by the early April news that Toronto (Ward 7) Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti ultimately opted not to run for a provincial seat in the June election. Just a week earlier, a full room of taxi interests had turned out to support his campaign to become an MPP.
However, Aaroport Taxi owner Sami Khairallah suggests, “We’ve got to improve the service to the people, and we will get the business back eventually. In my opinion, if we rely on the government and the police to protect us, I don’t think so. There will be more problems.”
According to Tranquada, the regular taxi business is already coming back somewhat, “because a lot of people have tried Uber (and were dissatisfied with the standard of driver).”
“I think (everyone) thought we were cooked when we were half-cooked,” Shorey agrees. “We are going to come back and take again what belongs to us.”
He alleges the human element is missing in ridesharing.
“When you’re dealing with a flashy ridesharing company versus garages and fleet operators, it’s the human capital,” he comments. “The garages, and fleet operators help the people that work for them. They lend them money. They carry them when they need a spot. When their family member is in hospital, it’s the garage who (helps out).”
Taxi Action president Behrouz Khamseh maintains that, “until we can come up with a true level playing field”, there’s only one real alternative.
“Take the law into your own hands,” he suggests. “Show the City you really mean business. The City tries to regulate the meter for me, I don’t go with the meter. Whatever it takes for me to survive. I think that’s a point the taxi industry has to think about. Do they just want to wait for a person to show up (to fix our problems) or get off their asses and do something?”
Wali, likewise, alleges that when creating the controversial new bylaw, Toronto councillors were motivated by dollar signs floating in their heads -- with the prospect of collecting 30 cents per run from PTC’s.
“These politicians all use these big words. Like, they say “cost recovery”. But this is not cost recovery, they are making money. It’s a business for the politicians. I think the main thing is money,” he alleges.
“And Councillors, they should educate themselves before voting on assumptions.”
Owner/operator Peter Collia has gone to city hall and made deputations in the past, but found, “it never works.” And he has his doubts about potential legal action against the City, given the history.
“I don’t know,” he says. “We have a lot of people working hard for us, trying to get things done right. Sometimes it’s better just to stay away, and to let it take its course.”
As for Aynan, an independent, he fears the system is stacked against the taxi industry.
“That’s politicians. You can’t do nothing,” he says. “They don’t ticket the Uber guys, but if it’s a taxi? (Oh boy).”