Mississauga taxi veteran has seen once thriving industry devastated by recent regulatory betrayal
by Mike Beggs
With their Toronto peers pursuing a $1.7-billion-plus class action suit against their City, taxi plate owners in nearby Mississauga are carefully watching and waiting on a staff report in June, coinciding with the end of an 18-month Transportation Network Company (TNC) Pilot Project.
And while the riding public’s love affair with ridesharing continues, it has come at quite a cost in cities across North America, in the form of increased gridlock, air pollution and crime, reduced public transit ridership, and widespread devastation to taxi industry livelihoods.
In Mississauga, 80 of the 550 plates in the city proper are now sitting on the shelf, and drivers and plate owners are just barely surviving.
“The pilot project, and the failure of Mississauga to properly regulate this change in the taxi industry has resulted in a serious income and investment loss for everybody in the industry,” says Mark Sexsmith, sales manager of All-Star Taxi.
Granted open entry to the Mississauga market, and what verges on self-regulation under the terms of the Pilot Project, TNC’s like Uber and Lyft have, by industry accounts, siphoned off more than half of the taxi business.
And according to Sexsmith, this “deregulation” has upset the basic equilibrium which always existed between the Mississauga riding public’s right to safe, efficient, and affordable service, and the taxi industry’s ability to earn a reasonable, and sustainable living. (This is one of the cornerstones of the Toronto class action).
“The point is, there is a social contract there. We upheld our end of it, and the City of Mississauga has been very negligent at their end of it,” he alleges. “Former long-time Mayor) Hazel McCallion said, time and again, taxi plates were the pension fund for the drivers, and she wrote it in letters to the City.”
A Toronto native, Sexsmith earned an Honours B.A. in Economics, Political Science and History from York University, before getting his taxi license in October of 1976.
“I was between jobs and looking for a little extra money and never left,” he says, in a story familiar to many cabbies.
He drove for several years with Skyway Taxi, in Malton, shifting down to the Mississauga core when the company was bought out by City Taxi in 1988. In 2008, he moved over to All-Star.
“It was challenging, but there was business out there and if you worked hard you could get ahead,” he recalls. “There has been competition from couriers, school buses, etc., but we’ve grown our business over the last 40 years.”
Sexsmith purchased his first taxi plate in 1988, and received subsequent issuances from the City in 1988, and 2008. And while his three plates are leased out at the moment, their market value has nosedived from $250,000 to less than $10,000, while lease rates have dropped from $1,000 to as low as $100 per month.
And where does that leave him at age 69?
“I can’t retire,” he says. “That’s the bottom line.”
While acknowledging the taxi industry has been dragged into modern times by tech-savvy companies like Uber, he believes there will still be a place for taxis, in providing service to agencies like Peel TransHelp, TTC WheelTrans, the Red Cross, ODSP, school boards, hospitals, and corporations -- who require a full-time professional driver trained in CPR, defensive driving, and serving seniors and persons with disabilities.
For many years, Sexsmith has been fighting for industry rights at Mississauga’s well-regarded Public Vehicle Advisory Committee, both as an industry representative, and deputant.
“I hope the PVAC will continue to be relevant in the management of the Mississauga hired ground transportation industry,” he says. “The TNC’s (PTC’s), as taxicabs, are part of that and they need to be regulated.”
“TNC’s really have proven to be a disaster in every jurisdiction they’ve come into -- short-term gain, for long-term pain,” he alleges. “They say, ‘We’re going to give you money’, and the politicians are all in, because every municipality is strapped for funds.”
However, he feels at some point the provincial government is going to have to “step in, and come up with the solution” to the taxi-TNC dilemma.
“TNC’s are currently operating at the provincial level (constantly crossing municipal boundaries), and the taxicabs are not. So, it isn’t a level playing field,” he offers.
“We’ve got to get this to a situation where all of the for hire transportation vehicles are going to be playing by the same rules, simple as that – in terms of coverage, driver training, and regulations.”
But why would municipalities like Toronto and Mississauga turn their back on such a cash cow – with TNC’s currently paying them a fee of 30 cents on every run?
“As the number of law suits increases, the cities may decide the easiest alternative is to offload some or all of the responsibility of the for hire industry to the provincial government,” he suggests.
Sexsmith has been a long-time proponent of a GTHA-wide plate for all ground transportation vehicles, and sees Metrolinx as the logical entity to oversee it (as a Crown agency, which manages and integrates roads and public transit across the Golden Horseshoe).
“If they’re looking for a “first mile, last mile” solution for transit, that is currently being provided by the for hire transportation industry,” he comments. “It’s something we’re already doing, and we’re in competition with Metrolinx. It’s impractical to set up a whole new system, when the wheel is already rolling. All we need is an axle between us.”