Mississauga apes Toronto plan to dump entire cost of on-demand accessible service on taxi industry
by Mike Beggs
Already suing their City for its’ alleged negligence in the licensing of and enforcement against Uber, Mississauga taxi owners are furious about a staff report recommending the Vehicle For Hire (VFH) industry foot the bill for on demand wheelchair accessible service.
Presented by Michael Foley, Manager, Mobile Licensing Enforcement on September 17 at a Public Vehicle Advisory Committee meeting, the report entitled, “On Demand Accessible Vehicle For Hire Project: Phase 3 – Options laid out two alternatives for taxi, and Transportation Network Company (TNC) operators to provide this service.
In Phase 1 of this study, staff determined the current market demand could be met by 15 accessible on-demand vehicles, with a minimum of 10 available 24/7/365.
Option 1 would require all licensed owners to provide a level of accessible service equivalent to their participation in the Vehicle For Hire industry, with operators permitted to sell capacity to industry members who can’t meet their own requirements.
In Option 2, taxi brokerages and TNC’s would be required to provide a minimum level of on demand service, and address peak demand through coordinated dispatch, track accessible usage, provide data to Enforcement, and ensure all accessible vehicle operators receive Sensitivity Training.
Staff estimated the additional cost of providing this accessible service would be $20,000 per year.
“This proposal is an outrage. Having suffered substantial losses due to negligence on the part of the City, that we the owners are being asked to shoulder a portion of the financial burden to provide accessible taxi service goes beyond the pale,” says veteran owner Peter Pellier. “It’s akin to a perpetrator asking the victim of a rape to pay for their cab fare home.”
“Clearly, (the City) is following in Toronto’s footsteps (here), just like it did with Uber. And this from a municipality that for decades led the way with respect to regulating taxis.”
He suggests the taxi industry is left with three choices: pay up; take the City to court; or refuse to pay and suffer the consequences.
Of the Staff report, All-Star Taxi marketing manager Mark Sexsmith agrees, “It’s ridiculous.”
“The thing is, the municipalities pay for accessible buses. Why should the taxi industry pay for this?” he asks. “They let Uber come into the marketplace and destroy the taxi industry’s ability to provide this extra service -- because in order for accessible vehicles to operate, they have to do ambulatory fares between the accessible runs. Now, the ambulatory fares have gone down, it’s not economical to operate an accessible taxi -- unless you have an accessible contract with TransHelp.”
“You have to spend (upwards of) $70,000 for an accessible vehicle, when there is virtually no business because of Uber. This isn’t going to happen”
He points out the City of Mississauga is receiving over $700,000 from the Province to fund its’ public/private accessible program, and, “not a cent has gone to the taxi industry.”
“Whatever the cost is, why can’t they just pay it?” he adds. “Fifteen vehicles times $20,000 is $300,000. That’s a drop in the bucket. Why not? The City used to offer a $12,000 subsidy per vehicle.”
Furthermore, from talking to two insurers, Sexsmith reports the base price for accessible insurance is $9,000 -- and they will not provide coverage for two drivers, nor fleet insurance.
“So, all of the City’s calculations are erroneous,” he adds.
He suggests, at present, 95 percent of Mississauga’s accessible vehicles are driving for TransHelp.
“How are they going to get 15 people to go out and buy accessible taxis for general public use?” he wonders.
Specializing in wheelchair accessible service, long-time owner/operator Ron Baumber agrees the report is, “pretty stupid”.
“Why do we have to fund the accessibility?” he asks. “Why is it up to us? The City has this idea we’re working for them. I don’t see any pension. I’m almost 70, and I’m still driving.”
He cites the prohibitive purchase price of these vehicles.
“And, I spent $4,060 on repairs this year. That’s just the repairs. Gas is through the ceiling,” he says.
And while the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) has been in place for 16 years, Baumber suggests this program, “still has a long way to go.”
“I invited my friend out to a club to see a band. She could get into the club, but she couldn’t get into the washroom (in her wheelchair)” he relates.
“There’s no sentiment for this. And this solution isn’t going to work for anybody. It didn’t fix it in Toronto, and it’s not going to here. And Uber isn’t going to fix anything, either.”
Of the level of on-demand accessible service in Mississauga, he says, “It’s poor. I don’t think it’s terrible. I think they can get rides these days, because the taxi industry is decimated.”
However, he suggests – on principle -- all 708 plates in Mississauga should be wheelchair accessible, like in London, England.
“Even if they level the playing field and put an extra buck on the meter, that would pay for your vehicle,” he asserts. “I’m sure there’s not a person on the planet who would say, ‘Oh, I’m not paying for accessibility.’”
Of the Mississauga proposal, long-time Toronto owner/operator John Dufort observes, “I think it’s crap. Period.”
Handling contracted WheelTrans runs, he says, “I know what it costs to buy one of these vehicles. I know the demand is not there.”
“I can’t speak for Mississauga and how good their TransHelp is, but in Toronto it’s very simple, everybody is taking WheelTrans,” he continues. “They can get their (subsidized) ride within a 4-hour window, they’re pretty well guaranteed. A taxi is like a last resort. I don’t see the big outcry -- maybe you get one or two on- demand rides in a week, if you’re lucky.”
On demand wheelchair accessible service has been a huge sore point, and financial stressor for Toronto taxi plate owners – particularly for those 300-plus operators who were issued a Toronto Taxi License in 2016 to provide this service, only to realize the demand is minimal, and the costs are enormous.
And owner/operator Gerry Manley suggests the cities of Toronto and Mississauga “obviously have been talking” about this issue, as this report, “mirrors” what has been done in Toronto.
He has been waging a war against the Toronto setup for years.
“Basically, what the City of Toronto is dong is making us pay for their mistake. And what they’re doing is illegal,” he alleges. “How can you make us support this, when it’s your fault? And the extra revenues from PTC’s (of 30 cents per ride) are now available.”
“You want taxi owners to pay $32, and drivers to pay $60. So, if I drive my own taxi, I have to pay into that fund twice.”
He asserts that, since the City has mandated cab owners to pay an annual fee to support the Accessible Reserve Fund, this fee should come from the City as it has always claimed ownership of taxi owners’ licenses.
Ever since the AODA’s enactment in 2005, Manley has maintained that the provision of this public service should be the financial responsibility of the City of Toronto, and not be put, “on the backs of the taxi industry.”
And when Ontario Regulation 191/11 came into effect on June 18, 2011, he notes these Duties of Municipalities were strengthened even further.
However, when Ontario Regulation 165/16 came into effect on June 25, 2016, it revoked both subsections holding cities responsible for meeting the requirements for wheelchair accessible service. Manley emphasizes that the Province and municipalities failed to hold the public meetings mandated under the Act, before taking these measures.
“These industry meetings never (happened),” he alleges.
“There is no doubt collusion occurred between the City of Toronto and the Province.”
A recent reply to him from the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility observes that “In the Transportation Standards section under the Act, when it comes to the provision of accessible service, “individual owner/operators are not accountable.”
“The City of Toronto is in violation of the AODA, which has cost the taxi industry millions of dollars over almost two decades that was in fact the responsibility of the City to provide from Day 1, and this was confirmed in this email from the Province,” he suggests.
“So, the question that needs attention now is, ‘What is the Province of Ontario going to do to correct this injustice?’: This requires immediate attention, not something months down the road -- as the operators of those wheelchair accessible vans are almost at the point of not being able to earn a living and support their families.”