Plate owner’s three-year battle with MLS over controversial Vehicle-For-Hire Licence Drivers Fee appears headed for the courts
by Mike Beggs
It looks like court is the only recourse left to Toronto owner/operator Gerry Manley, in his one-man battle against the requirement for Standard plate owners to pay the City’s $130 Vehicle-For-Hire (VFH) Driver’s Fee.
For a third straight year, Manley is withholding this fee (which was due on August 23), in protest against what he terms only one of many “illegalities, errors, and indiscretions” that lie within Toronto’s contentious VFH bylaw, which licenses Uber, and other Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) under their own separate category.
This veteran driver/industry activist has sent out countless letters to Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) staff, City and provincial politicians, seeking a proper explanation for this $130 fee.
“They (refuse) to deal with the specifics of my complaints,” he tells Taxi News. “They just keep saying, ‘You’re required to pay it.’
“I wrote to all six councillors who sit on the Licensing and Standards Committee, and never got one response.”
Most recently, in an August 7 letter from MLS executive director Tracey Cook he was advised, “If you are charged with an offence under Chapter 546, you are welcome to raise your arguments before the courts.”
“So much for democracy, and welcome to autocratic rule,” he alleges. “I have no other choice. I have to go to court.”
Manley is raising a new issue pertaining to this $130 Driver’s Fee. He notes that on the front of his taxi-cab owner’s license it states, “To operate a taxi, livery, or PTC.”
“That includes the right to drive. So, why do I require two licenses to drive when my owner’s license clearly gives me the permission? It says it right on the face of the license,” Manley notes.
What’s more, he claims there’s a glaring double standard in the final paragraph of Cook’s letter.
To his allegations that there are companies operating wheelchair accessible vehicles in Toronto not being required to obtain a City business license, or pay a licensing fee, she responded, “It is the MLS’ view that the current structure and wording of the bylaw does not require these businesses to obtain a license.”
“Aren’t these private companies operating vehicles for compensation, which is the definition of a Vehicle For Hire?” he asks. “It now raises the question, if these companies’ drivers do not require a VFH driver’s license, and don’t pay a licensing fee to the City of Toronto, why do I?! Especially when the 550 Toronto Taxi Licenses that operate accessible vehicles require a VFH driver’s license!”
And he alleges it’s “a total abuse of licensing authorities”, when the owner/operator of a taxi needs two licenses to operate, while others require only one, and some require none.
“This has all the appearances of the MLS attempting to make up for licensing shortfalls, where they have not applied licensing requirements fairly to all concerned,” he says.
MLS staff are more than a year behind schedule on the mandated Review of the VFH bylaw, and Cook’s Report to Council is now projected for the second quarter of 2019. In the interim, Uber, Lyft and the like continue to operate with open access to the Toronto market, and under virtual self-regulation. Many taxi industry leaders say this has pushed them to the brink, while lowering the standards of driver, vehicle, and public safety.
Manley has repeatedly urged the City to scrap the entire bylaw and start over, with proper stakeholder input.
Among the alleged “inequalities”, he notes taxi owners are now paying $973 for plate renewals, while Uber X drivers simply sign up with Uber online, and the company pays a $15 registration fee to the City.
“So, why do I need a license?” he wonders. “They’re operating in the taxi business, as well.”
Manley maintains the bylaw violates the equal rights and protection granted under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He’s among many who allege the City has a “hidden agenda” in how they choose to operate, and charge fees. For years, Manley and many other observers have accused the City of using the cab industry as a “licensing cash cow”.
“It is perplexing to me, and all of our other 10,000 members, why the MLS and City councillors hold their own taxicab industry in such disdain, considering we are an important cog in any municipal transportation grid,” he comments.
“The City simply wants to sit back and collect the licensing revenues and let the PTC’s self-regulate, and to hell with the decades of loyal service by the taxicab industry, and to hell with consumer protection as well.”
Manley finally wound up paying his $130 VFH Driver’s Fee last summer, after the MLS threatened to take away his plate.
If this matter is not addressed, next year he plans to protest the VFH owner’s license renewal as well, “because they don’t require PTC drivers to have an owner’s license.”
“I think rules and regulations are required, but they just need to be fair to all,” he offers. Am I not being discriminated against? Of course, I am.”