Release of MLS’s Public Consultation Summary fails to impress
by Mike Beggs
Just released as part of the Review of Chapter 546, Licensing of Vehicles-For-Hire, a Public Consultation Summary is being broadly shot down by taxi industry veterans.
This document summarizes the feedback heard during the first phase of public consultations, staged from September 17 to October 3, 2018. (A second round of public consultations recently wrapped up, with the Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards’ Final Report expected in the second quarter of 2019).
Feedback was not attributed to individuals, or specific companies in the vehicle-for-hire industries in this 11-page document, which cab owner/operator Gerry Manley dismisses as, “the usual dog and pony show”.
“The questions are front-end loaded, making the responses only favourable to city hall,” he alleges.
“There was next to nothing discussed on the myriad of issues and illegalities contained in Chapter 546, and in several provincial Acts and Regulations.”
He was not surprised by the low industry attendance at the consultations.
“It’s a waste of time,” he adds. “Like at every meeting, we’re going to end up paying more and making less.”
After reading the report, Taxi Action president Behrouz Khamseh agrees, “This looks like a one-way street.”
“The City has planned on this idea that Uber is the best thing. And the only reason is, they’re blinded by the money they receive from Uber (a 30-cent fee on every run),” he alleges.
“When the comparison was made between Uber and taxis (in this report) it was blaming the taxis for the congestion. I laughed.”
Long-time owner Andy Reti suggests the Summary falls in line with a long-time “hidden agenda” on the part of the City -- to destroy the value of the Standard plate, and deregulate the industry. He, likewise, sees no worth in the report.
“Does anybody expect anything other than the usual garbage they put out?” he asks. “Did we discuss the core issues? There’s not one single reference to the multitude of PTC cars on the road (which now sits at 82,000-plus, according to the MLS).”
“And I’m making a prediction, the second report will be a carbon copy of this one.”
Staff estimated that only about 210 people attended these meetings, including citizens at large, members of the taxi and limo industries, Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) and their drivers, accessibility advocates, and university students. The style of meeting included open house, round table and small group discussions; and the same five questions were posed to attendees at each meeting.
According to the MLS, “The purpose of these meetings was to better understand the vehicle-for-hire industry, determine what issues exist, and identify areas for further research.”
In the Conclusion of this 11-page report the MLS observes, “There were several general topics of discussion brought up throughout the consultations, including accessibility, congestion, licensing and training.”
But Manley beefs about a lack of specifics on several key issues. For example, to simply report that, “it has been difficult for the taxi industry to compete with PTC’s” falls light years away from the reality of losing virtually all of their business, and plate and leasing values over the past several years – and the fact that some 700 taxi plates are sitting on the shelf!
He points to the general nature of the question, ‘How can safety be improved for operators, customers, and other users of the road?’
“Why would they ask that general question when they already know about the safety program in place for taxicabs, (through) cameras and emergency lights? he asks.
“We’ve been very successful with that program. We’ve decreased crime by over 75 percent. So why not say, ‘If we implement cameras and emergency lights in PTC’s, would that help safety?’ No specifics.”
And while taxi interests insist mandatory cameras are essential, PTC’s stood by their position that cameras are NOT necessary -- because their platforms have a two-way rating system, and GPS tracking, and are designed to reduce any anonymity of drivers and passengers. They say the mandating of cameras would make it too expensive, and exclude many drivers from working for their apps. And, they remind that, under Bylaw 546, they are not permitted to take street hails. (Cabbies say this rule is being violated big time).
Some taxi industry members argued that PTC drivers should be required to display a City-issued photo ID card, to ensure that the driver is the same person who is logged into the app.
Of the distressing number of sexual assaults and other crimes committed by Uber and Lyft drivers – and now “fake” PTC drivers – the world over, there was not even a mention.
Similarly, Reti scoffs at a question like, ‘What has your experience been since the new VFH bylaw was implemented?’
“My answer to that question is, ‘Why is my plate sitting on the shelf?”’ he says. “That sums it up. So, you can cut out all the stupid questions. Concentrate on the core issues --lack of driver training, lack of business, lack of enforcement.”
According to Staff, training for all providers of ground transportation services in Toronto was mentioned by attendees throughout the consultations, but there were differences of opinion regarding how it should be delivered (online training courses, a college-run program, or City–run classroom training).
However, no reference was made to the tragic, accident-related 2018 death of Nicholas Cameron, whose Uber driver was in just his second day on the job. Nor to the fact that Cameron’s mother Cheryl Hawkes attended every single consultation, demanding proper training for all VHF drivers.
Members of the taxi industry generally felt training should include knowledge of landmarks and hospitals, navigation, downtown driving, defensive driving, knowledge of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act, dealing with service animals, and methods of preventing the “dooring” of cyclists.
Staff heard many concerns about how accessible service is being provided in Toronto, the financial cost of delivering this service, and concerns that the City’s aim of metered, on-demand accessible service is not being consistently met. Suggestions included exploring a dispatch service for accessibles, a dedicated accessibility fund to subsidize the cost and maintenance of these vehicles, and providing training for TTL operators.
Manley notes that, during the creation of Bill 546, the City considered directing a percentage of the 30 cents per run it receives from PTC’s to an accessibility fund, but ultimately waffled out of it.
The low demand aside, TTL drivers said when operating an accessible vehicle it often takes longer to get to the location, load and unload the passengers, and find a place to park. Users of accessible service claimed the ride is noisy and bumpy, that they do not feel safe in “chop shop” converted vans, and that the City should mandate side-entry TTL vehicles only (like TTC Wheel-Trans does).
“It’s $60,000 to $70,000 to buy these vehicles, and they don’t have any business,” Khamseh chimes in. “You know when they have to replace these vehicles, (the TTL drivers) will put these plates back on the shelf. Look at the gas prices.”
“(And, the City), they just pretend everything is okay.”
This report concludes that consumers were “pleased” to have PTC’s brought under the bylaw because it offers them broader ground transportation options, and thus improves their quality of life.
According to Staff, the public likes the reliability of PTC’s, the user-friendly smartphone app, the accountability of the two-way rating system, the level of customer service, and the fact that they know the exact fare in advance of taking the ride.
No mention was made of the often cheaper price of a PTC ride, which cab interests largely put down to their lower expenses and level of regulation. And owner/operator Frank Kelly warns Uber lovers that, if and when the cab industry is effectively destroyed, prices will go up, “because Uber has been subsidizing the price of rides” to achieve that goal.
Attendees said they like the availability of taxi-cabs (particularly downtown), the fact their behavior is regulated through City enforcement and the safety measures required through licensing. But they voiced displeasure with short fare refusals, and the lack of widespread access to working Point Of Sale machines, and cited the need to bring back the sealed meter to ensure consistent service delivery.
Staff heard from the taxi industry that: PTC’s should be subject to the same low emission vehicle standards as them; there should be more transparency in the PTC driver background check process; driver training should be mandatory for all for-hire vehicles; and that the licensing fees for taxis should be reduced. Some members said they would like a vehicle-for-hire advisory committee to be established.
And, attendees said MLS Staff needs to address the potential impact of autonomous vehicles on the for-hire industry and accessibility, should they be licensed to operate in Toronto.