‘Our livelihood is gone,’ says weary veteran driver and plate owner after worst year of his career
by Mike Beggs
“This is the worst, this year,” long-time owner/operator Yassin Saeed Numan says of the wasteland that is the Toronto taxi industry in 2019 – what with more than 90,000 Private Transportation Company (PTC) vehicles now vying for his business under the City’s PTC-friendly Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw.
“I used to work a half shift of days, and a half shift of nights. Now the night shift is almost completely dead (because there are so many Ubers out there at club closing time),” he relates.
“Our livelihood is gone.”
And at 57, he feels, “I’m too old (to make a career change). Who’s going to hire me?”
All of this makes the congenial Ethiopian native wish he had made use of the degree he earned in Business Computer Systems Analysis in 1998, shortly after he immigrated to Canada.
“When I graduated I couldn’t get a job. I was making tons of money driving taxi. That’s why I didn’t use my degree. I do regret that now,” he continues.
But back then he says he could easily gross $300 to $400 a day. Now he’s lucky to take in $200 a shift, can’t pay his mortgage, and is hoping to shop around for cheaper insurance. (He’s currently paying $5,200 per year).
This Beck driver gave up going to taxi-related meetings years ago. But he is part of the Toronto owners’ $1.7-billion-plus class action initiative, lamenting the fact that Standard plate values have diminished to next to zero, while his “taxi driver’s pension” has gone up in smoke.
“About a month ago, a taxi driver bought three plates for $30,000,” he says, in disgust, “that from a high of $380,000.”
“We will try (to get compensation through the courts). It will take time, but we’re going to get there.”
Like many, he has a long list of complaints about his industry’s treatment at the hands of city hall -- from Mayor John Tory and Council, down through the bureaucrats at Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards.
“They don’t care about traffic, or safety. (There are so many) Uber, and Lyft cars in the city, you cannot move. They know there’s a problem -- they’re not interested in solving it,” alleges the father of two, who got his issue in 1999.
“And all of the money from Uber, and Lyft goes to the Silicon Valley. But the politicians they don’t care, as long as the money (keeps flowing into the City from the 30 cent per PTC ride).”
And while it’s common knowledge cabs have lost big market share to ridesharing companies, he notes plate owners are still required to pay the full amount of $1,000-plus on their renewals – while PTC drivers are not.
“The people who work in the Licensing Commission now, no one can think. The funny part is, remember the movie, “White Men Can’t Jump”? This is, “Licensing Commission Can’t Think,” he jokes.
“Look at what they did at Union Station. When you come out the main doors, the taxi stand is so far away, as somebody comes out they don’t see us. The scoopers pull up right in front and take our fares. As soon as you come out, you see the scoopers lined up.”
Furthermore, he observes that PTC’s have siphoned off customers, not just from taxis, but from the TTC -- contrary to the City’s long-term plans for encouraging the use of public transit, and reducing congestion and pollution.
“Look at the TTC streetcars,” he says. “When you’re on St. Clair Avenue, three streetcars go together. They are (all but) empty, maybe three, or four people in them.
“The TTC they’ve lost a lot, but they don’t care because they get (funding) from the government. But somebody like me, when I lose my customers it comes from my pocket.”
He says it’s incumbent on the City to amend Bylaw 546, and truly level the playing field between cabs and PTC’s.
“(Or) sooner or later, the taxi business is going to die, because of what Uber wants to do,” he warns. “They drop the price down and down. Once the taxi business is dead, then they will bump up the prices. They did this in Egypt. All the taxi drivers became Uber drivers. No more taxis on the road.”
With the massive competition for the Vehicle For Hire buck in Toronto – and the sizable cut the company takes off the top of each fare -- he claims Uber and Lyft drivers are struggling as well, making wages nowhere near what’s promised by the companies.
“The sad part is, a lot of refugees they come in the city, get their driver’s license for Ontario, and within one or two weeks they start driving for Uber,” he alleges. “Everyone wants to become an Uber driver. But how much traffic is there going to be? There are going to be accidents -- they just cut in front of you (without indicating). Minimum, I see one Uber driver, or bike-related accident a day.”
“They don’t know the city. They are new to it,” he adds. “I know an Uber driver who doesn’t speak English. He speaks Arabic. (But) you don’t need to communicate with your customers, you just need the app.”
So, what does the future hold for him?
“From now on I really don’t care, because I (only) have another three years then I can retire,” he comments.
“Toronto is too expensive for me. Maybe I’ll go to Windsor, or London.”