Skewed MLS license fees glaring example of VFH Bylaw’s unfairness
by Mike Beggs
(Editor’s note: This is the tenth and final installment in Taxi News’s series on veteran industry observer Gerry Manley’s monthly letters addressing the many failures inherent in the City of Toronto’s calamitous 2016 Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw. Readers interested in reading the Manley letter discussed in this article will find it and previous letters in the series posted here.)
In the final letter in this series, Manley outlines why he withheld his annual licensing fees again this summer, to protest the glaring lack of a level playing field under Bylaw 546, perhaps best exemplified in the way fees are structured.
In 2018, he withheld both his Owner’s Renewal Fee of more than $1,100, and the VFH Driver’s Fee of $130 – and this year he also protested the recent passing of the Accessibility Fund fee. As in 2018, Manley eventually remitted his fees under threat of losing his licenses.
“Until there is a fair and level playing field applied to how a taxi business is licensed, and the required licensing fees applied equally, I will withhold my license fees,” he wrote in a May 28 email to Councillor Paul Ainslie, Chair of the General Government and Licensing Committee.
Manley’s central argument is that, while Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) are now defined the same as taxis and limos under the federal Excise Tax Act, Toronto’s VFH Bylaw defines and regulates them as separate entities. And he alleges certain categories (PTC’s) are given special consideration over others (taxis).
“In my opinion that puts the municipal bylaw in conflict with a federal statute, and when that occurs the senior law always takes precedence, thereby making a substantial amount of Chapter 546 ultra vires, and redundant,” he
And, he alleges the City is actually disregarding TWO federal statutes, because the VFH regulatory setup is in conflict with the federal Charter of Rights and Freedom, Equality Rights, which dictates all such parties must be treated equally.
Further to the point, he considers it, “a total abuse of licensing authority” that the owner/operator of a taxicab needs two licenses, while a PTC operator requires only one.
“I will pay what everybody else pays, which is 15 bucks,” he says. “The PTC driver doesn’t pay an owner’s fee, and it’s Uber that pays the $15 registration fee on behalf of the driver. If that’s all they’re required to pay, I’m an owner/operator as well, defined by a federal statute, just like they are.”
Similarly, he would like to know why a taxicab owner’s renewal fee is $1,100-plus for 2019, while a PTC owner does not pay any such renewal fee.
While he requested immediate attention to his May 28 email to Ainslie, Manley was once again left waiting by city hall. (Taxi industry leaders allege they have been paid “lip service” by the City for decades, while subjected to some of the heaviest, priciest regulation in the world).
It wasn’t until July 10 that things came to a head, when he received a response from Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards.
An email from Fiona Chapman, director of business licensing and regulatory services stated that, “The MLS has consulted with Legal Services on the alleged federal conflict, and advises that the Excise Tax Act is a federal taxing statute that was passed for a completely different purpose than Chapter 546. Its definition and application have no bearing on the City’s regulation.”
“As such, you are required to renew your vehicle-for-hire license annually, and if an application is not received with payment of the applicable renewal fee, your license may be administratively cancelled, as per Section 546-6 Terms and removal of licenses.”
Chapman also informed him that, “If a renewal application is not completed, Chapter 546 does not provide the opportunity to request a hearing before the Toronto Licensing Tribunal, and that your license may be cancelled without notice.”
“How arbitrarily the MLS runs this industry,” Manley responds. “They’re denying our members due process, they will not discuss the things we want to discuss. I’ve given the reasons, and they won’t even give me a meeting.”
He maintains the primary purpose of municipal business licensing is for tax reasons, and that the licensing of PTC’s, “certainly has proven this point”, with the City raking in over $24 million since July of 2016 on the 30 cents per run fee applied to ridesharing vehicles.
He suggests the second reason for business licensing it to promote public safety. But given the exponential growth in PTC’s -- resulting in heavy congestion, added pollution, and a disturbing increase in crimes committed by PTC drivers -- he alleges the City, “shows little concern for public safety.”
Given the taxi industry’s decimation by Uber and other PTC’s, Manley takes particular issue with the City requiring all taxi industry members, other than TTL’s or any other owner of an accessible vehicle, to pay into the Accessibility Reserve Fund, “to correct this City error in licensing and financially supporting the TTL’s”. VFH owners are now paying $125.32, and VFH drivers $62.66 annually into this fund.
“There is more than enough revenue coming from this one licensing source (the 30 cent per PTC run) to finance and sustain the Accessibility Reserve Fund without industry financial involvement,” he argues.
Manley notes that until Chapman’s July 12 email, “I had not received even one response from over 12 letters of investigation that were sent out on some rather serious issues occurring within the VFH industry.” And he beefs, “She failed to respond to any of the bullet points contained.”
And, he openly challenges Toronto Legal’s interpretation of the changes in the definition of a taxi business under the federal Excise Tax Act, which he believes, “make it mandatory for the City to treat all of these categories equally.”
“With all due respect to Toronto Legal Services, my investigations into this point showed the exact opposite, as, no law can be a law unto itself, and consideration must be given to any other law in place that deals with the same subject matter,” he writes. “In my opinion, especially since a federal statute supercedes any municipal bylaw if there is a conflict, this proves the City is guilty of violating its licensing rights as granted under the City of Toronto Act, 2006.”
“Not surprisingly, neither she nor Toronto Legal Services made any comment on my point that the actions of the City are in violation of the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
He reiterates that by threatening to administratively cancel his license, under the authority of Chapter 546, “this amounts to being denied due process.”
“The MLS, and every other City or provincial bureaucrat is refusing: to amend the governing bylaws to attain an acceptable level of fairness, when it comes to licensing and licensing fees; to charge me with a bylaw offence, and grant me the opportunity to bring forward my complaints in a court of law; or to arrange a face-to-face meeting to further explain my position, and for the MLS and/or the City to give me their explanation on my licensing inquiries.”
After receiving Chapman’s response, Manley reached out to lawyer Michael Binetti, who is representing Toronto and Mississauga taxi owners in legal actions against their respective cities. Binetti “kindly responded” that he did not have the time to take on the case, but offered some valuable advice.
“He pointed out that it would not be prudent to withhold my licensing fees,” Manley relates. “He advises that all litigants should be compliant with the applicable laws and then challenge them, as otherwise if one is not successful their licensing rights may be gone.”
While he and his fellow owners have been left in horrible limbo, on Binetti’s advice Manley opted to remit the required licensing fees, and pursue another legal option recommended by the solicitor.
“Since the City is in the process of legislating its taxi industry out of existence, which includes my never having the opportunity to use my license as my retirement fund as promised by the City when I entered the industry 46-plus years ago, I can ill afford to lose my way of making a living,” he comments. “I am now 75 years of age and well past the time to look for gainful employment in another industry, so I am trapped by the City to remain in the taxi industry until it eventually disappears, or I pass away, whichever comes first.”
Manley has cc’ed this final letter to All Toronto Owners and Operators Ltd. (ATOOL), the group leading the class action against the City, with the hope that this and all of the other correspondence he has sent out, will be of some assistance in their anticipated court case.
“Perhaps, it is there, that I and all other cab industry members will be successful in recouping the unfair, and in my opinion illegal licensing requirements and fees that have been assessed by the City, along with all of the other financial losses we have incurred,” he offers.
“I believe much of the content of those reports will support the case, leaving no doubt that the City and the Province were made aware of most of the issues our membership wanted addressed”, issues says Manley, that were never addressed in the recently concluded City taxi reformation meetings, or by provincial intervention.