MLS reports 185 plates on the shelf but observers say many more are in limbo
by Mike Beggs
In what can only be regarded as another disheartening sign of the times, Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards has informed Taxi News there are currently 185 taxi plates on the shelf.
“It’s a barometer that this industry is on its last legs,” says owner/operator Gerry Manley.
“(That 185 figure) is quite substantial. And I think there are many more to come.”
And he notes that number does not include the many plates fleet and brokerage owners now have sitting on their desks (and, “that the MLS is not chasing”, even though the bylaw states these plates are supposed to on the road).
He speculates this amounts to another 300 to 500 plates -- meaning that, in sum, 10 to 12 percent of the industry’s total number of plates are off the road.
“When you remove 10 to 12 percent of our industry, I think it’s a pretty telling tale. But the City wanted to get rid of us. That is well-known,” he alleges. “If you cared about the industry or public safety you wouldn’t allow 60,000 (Uber X) vehicles, because there’s no way you can control them.”
The MLS also revealed that over the past few weeks the average Standard plate has been selling for just $46,000.
Nick Arvanitakis, owner/operator of Solid One meter and camera installation shop agrees that 185 statistic is only the tip of the iceberg.
“The shelf is one thing. But I think, from my own experience, there are plates sitting everywhere,” he says. “I’ve had some of my own plates sitting 2.5 months.
“Before it was, you had to surrender the plate (if it was off the road). But there are a lot of of plates sitting, and guys are not replacing cars.”
Arvanitakis’ fleet has fallen off from 45 to 16 cars.
“Eighteen months ago, I returned 30 plates,” he continues. “That’s something you just don’t do. It’s unheard of.
“That took 20 years to accumulate.”
Similarly, Lucky 7 Taxi owner Lawrence Eisenberg says, “(That 185), that’s way, way low, right now.”
“A lot of the guys are holding on to the plates as long as they can. I had to put a plate on the shelf, and said nobody wants to drive. It has been sitting for a month.”
In better times, the 55-year industry veteran ran 35 cars and held eight plates. He’s now down to three plates.
According to Eisenberg, the last time there were no plates on the shelf was around 2000.
“It’s a sign of the times, and unfortunately the times aren’t getting any better,” he adds. “This is one reason ATOOL is in effect right now.” (ATOOL, All Toronto Owners and Operators Ltd., is a new industry group which has taken the first steps towards filing a class action suit against the City).
City Taxi owner Avtar Sekhon finds many drivers are walking away from the garages, saying, ‘Here’s your keys, I’m not making enough.’ I can’t blame them.”
“At the garages, we depend on the taxi drivers, and they can’t survive. They’re quitting,” he continues. “There are no drivers because of Uber. I’ve put five plates on the shelf.”
“It’s very difficult. I have 11 cars sitting at night. I used to have 62 in our fleet, I cut it to 42 cars. In September, we will pay $8,750 for insurance with no Collision.”
Owner Andy Reti deems 185 to be, “a horrendous number” of plates on the shelf, and he asks of the City, “Is that an indication of the level playing field?”
He also believes the total number of plates sitting idle is closer to 400.
“There have always been plates on the shelf for various reasons. But I don’t think I ever heard of more than 30 at any given time,” he relates.
“My philosophy has always been to avoid putting plates on the shelf at all times. Right now, I have two sitting on the shelf.”
Reti says the leasing fee has been dropping steadily for the past three months, and plate values have fallen below $46,000.
“(We have) no retirement. That has been stolen. They literally stole our pension fund,” he alleges.
One of his options is to go back behind the wheel.
“At my age I’m still physically capable of doing it, but after 50 years do I really want to”? he asks. “Is that what my life’s work results in, that I have to go back to work at 76?”
Peter’s Taxi owner Peter Mandronis runs about 20 cars and has no plates on the shelf.
“But sometimes my cars are sitting two or three days, and I have to pay insurance 24 x7,” he beefs. He says taxi insurance should be the same as for PTC’s, “when the meter is off I don’t need commercial insurance.”
“Most of the people who work for those other services don’t have any insurance, other than private insurance,” he alleges. “At 5 p.m., they can pass their cell-phone to somebody else and say, ‘Go make some money’. Nobody knows who’s driving the car.”
Mandronis hopes Toronto politicians will realize the mistakes they made by granting open access and loosening up the rules to accommodate Uber in the new Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw.
“Both services should be subject to the same bylaw,” he insists. “Even the federal government classifies (PTC’s) as taxis.
“I want the provincial government (under new Premier Doug Ford) to press for the laws to be equal.”
Sekhon suggests the City won’t consider capping the number of PTC’s – even though the downtown is flooded with 60,000-plus Ubers alone -- diluting the market, while causing further gridlock and pollution. He points to the City’s newfound revenue stream, with PTC’s paying 30 cents per run into its coffers.
He claims taxi plate values are down to $30,000, while limo plates now have no value.
“They’re really killing us. They said, ‘Here’s your pension.’ Where has the pension gone?” he asks. “Lots of owners have died, and their widows are old, too.”
“And what about the people who paid $377,000 (for their plates).”
Mandronis points out that the people who bought or were issued a taxi plate, in effect, opened a small business. And he says this all dates back to 1963, when the City itself changed the rules, allowing plates to be transferred and take on value.
He claims half this equity has now been taken by Uber, as the City allowed this ridesharing company to operate outside the bylaw for three years with virtual impunity.
“The City should (pay us back),” he says. “They collect enough money from Uber. It’s the taxi industry’s money. They should compensate the owners and the drivers.”
“They should be ashamed, and give that money back to the taxi industry.”
Manley maintains the City has never cared about the taxi industry.
“They don’t really care if your life’s work has gone down the tubes. That manifests itself into the fact you can’t leave your life’s work to your wife and kids (because it has no real value remaining),” he alleges. “It’s really criminal.”
However, taxi operators find little sympathy from the general public, many of whom have become hooked on the (usually) cheaper, push-button ridesharing services. And down through the years, Toronto councillors like Howard Moscoe have complained about absentee owners profiting off of taxi plates, while, “sipping Mai Tai’s in Florida.”
“What’s lost on people is the fact that owners were very often drivers,” observes Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard. “It’s just so sad that owners are being vilified -- because they are suffering.
“Taxi drivers have funded the government transportation for decades, at no cost for the city. (Then, they turn around) and say, ‘We don’t need you anymore.’ It’s a total slap in the face.”