Retired career shift driver steps up with $500 donation to ATOOL legal action
by Mike Beggs
In calling for solidarity and financial support for ATOOL’s proposed $1.7-billion-plus class action suit against the City, Toronto taxi plate owners probably never expected this.
Although he’s 10 years off the road and never owned a taxi plate, author and retired cabby Peter McSherry has stepped forward with a generous $500 contribution to the owners’ cause – even though a significant number of the city’s plate owners themselves are still hedging on shelling out.
McSherry can’t stand to see hardworking veteran plate owners having their “taxi driver pensions” pulled out from under them, decades after the City promised them their plates could be used as retirement income.
“I truly know the long-time owners have been gypped by the City,” he says flatly.
“My anger over this is enormous.”
In ATOOL’s proposed class action (which still needs certification), the plaintiffs claim the City has reneged on this longstanding promise made to generations of taxi drivers who took on the heavy commitment of owning a plate. (On terms that included driving a grueling five 12-hour shifts a week for many years). The fallout from this is seeing owners in their late 60’s and older who are now forced to keep working, despite their advancing years and deteriorating health.
McSherry says he vividly remembers the speech Toronto Municipal Licensing & Standards staff gave to every driver when he joined the industry in 1971, stating that, should they be issued a plate, drivers could use it as retirement income in their golden years (be it by selling the plate, or leasing it out monthly).
“We had the feeling this was a very solid system, in existence for a couple of decades,” he recalls.
He says that feeling lasted until the late 1990’s, when, he alleges, Councillors Howard Moscoe, and Denzel Minnan-Wong decided they wanted to, “take the taxi plates back from those who had earned them.” And while the industry has unsuccessfully challenged the City in court in the past, he feels the class action represents their, “best chance to win -- by far.”
“I absolutely believe a court of law would have a great deal of difficulty ruling against this,” he comments. “They’ve got a good chance. It’s not politicians who are going to make the decision, it’s officers of the court of law who are used to ruling on injustices.”
“What they’re doing is outright theft of the property of working people, and I DON’T LIKE IT. That’s why I kicked in $500… The City promised them their own business, it didn’t promise them to be slaves.”
During his four decades on the road, McSherry (74) often deputated at city hall against the City’s heavy-handed regulation of the cab industry (and wrote about it as a longtime contributor to Taxi News). And that alleged mistreatment has gotten worse with the arrival and licensing of Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s), principally Uber, under open entry. With reportedly more than 83,000 PTC’s now on the streets, the taxi industry has lost an estimated 75 percent of its business, while plate resale and leasing values have crashed to all-time lows. Meanwhile, the City rakes in 30 cents on every PTC run.
“The City is making money out of Uber in a quiet way,” he observes. “That suits Mr. Tory and his associates just fine.
“I think the right and proper thing to do would be to discontinue their pensions, and that money should be passed on to the taxi industry. Then, we’ll see how they like that. They don’t mind taking advantage of powerless people.”
A graduate of St. Michael’s College, McSherry started driving cab at the age of 26, after earning an Honours B.A. from Waterloo-Lutheran University in History and English. For many years, this bachelor, “drove when I felt like it”, while researching and writing his first book “The Big Red Fox: The Incredible Story of Norman “Red” Ryan, Canada’s Most Notorious Criminal” (The Dundurn Group: 1999). His father was also a taxi driver.
“No doubt, it gives you a free life,” he offers. “You don’t really have a boss.”
Working strictly evenings, he cruised throughout his two, or three 12-hour shifts a week, often playing the seedier corners of the downtown track. His experiences were chronicled in his second book, the highly entertaining and opinionated “Mean Streets: Confessions of a Night-Time Taxi Driver (Dundurn: 2002 ).
“I used to push the car if it was empty,” he relates. “I rarely sat around.”
“There’s no doubt it’s a dangerous job. (Over the years), I had four guys with guns in my car, and I was in 25 to 30 street fights.”
He also spent three years as a high school teacher, but was soon enough drawn back behind the wheel.
According to McSherry, the taxi business has always been held in low esteem by regulators and much of the general public, “(although) most cab drivers don’t do anything to promote that.” And this low opinion, no doubt, has played into the huge success of PTC’s like Uber and Lyft around the world – along with their generally cheaper rates and handy apps.
But he claims the City of Toronto has simply used Uber as a convenient tool to destroy the value of the Standard taxi plate (and will do the same to ridesharing operators when it sees fit).
“It makes me feel like my own city is nothing but a dirty rotten thief,” says McSherry. “These owners were induced by the City to earn their plates for their retirement. What the City has done is change the rules, and welch on their promise.”