Staff review arrives two years overdue and short on substance
by Mike Beggs
The Staff Review of Toronto’s controversial Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw is finally in – two years late, and short on substance.
That was the consensus among taxi industry leaders after digesting the Final Report’s 79 recommendations which were considered by the City’s General Government & Licensing Committee on June 24.
“We want them to send the report back for further amendments, because it’s not detailed enough,” said long-time owner/operator Lawrence Eisenberg, in mid-June.
“There were some good things, and some bad things about the Report. They were all over the place. It was too vague.”
Filed by Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director Carleton Grant, the Report was adopted by the Committee, but sent back to staff for several amendments. It will go straight to Toronto Council on July 15.
A prime example of this haziness came in a recommendation for Grant to establish the mandatory components and criteria of training programs for all drivers licensed under Chapter 546, and to publish a list of accredited training programs. While laying out numerous housekeeping details for this, the report failed to mention even one outside institution currently offering such training!
Indeed, the abolition of the long-running MLS Taxi Driver Training School (along with several other basic regulatory standards) was one of the cab industry’s biggest criticisms with the crafting of the VFH Bylaw in 2016. Cab industry leaders say it has created a “Wild Wild West” scenario, with more than 83,000-plus untrained ridesharing drivers working the streets, often relying strictly on their GPS to find their way around.
“They did nothing that the taxi industry suggested (in writing Bylaw 546),” Eisenberg complains. “Is the City going to do inspections again, too?
“And, how are they going to train the 90,000 (VFH drivers) already out there, or are they going to grandfather them? We’re talking about protecting the public. You can’t protect the public if you aren’t sending them through an accredited training program.”
He says it’s the same thing with cameras, which Uber management maintains should not be mandatory for their cars, as they are for taxis.
“There’s no inspection for the cameras anymore, so who knows if they’re working in the taxis anymore?” he continues. “And how outdated are some of the cameras? It’s not a good process. What they’ve done basically is thrown out the conditions.”
Peter’s Taxi owner Peter Mandronis cites the glaring absence of any recommendations to cap the number of Private Transportation Company (PTC) vehicles. Not only has the open entry granted Uber, Lyft and other PTC’s brought the taxi industry to its knees, he notes, “everybody’s talking about the traffic congestion and air pollution.”
The report states that the VFH Bylaw was enacted to establish a set of rules for taxis, limos, and PTC’s, “to reset and modernize” the City’s approach to regulating for-hire drivers and vehicles, and “responded to the public’s request for choice in regulated transportation options.”
But Mandronis reasons, “There are 4,500 taxis and 1,000 limos in Toronto. So, allow 5,500 PTC’s, and the public has a choice. Before the PTC’s came on the scene, that money belonged to every taxi driver, taxi owner, and taxi operator, and that money should be paid back to those guys.
“Before the PTC’s came on the scene, the public was being served by 4,500 cabs, with 10 minutes service any time.”
As for Mayor John Tory’s proclamation of a level playing field?
“If they want a level playing field, PTC’s should have commercial insurance just like taxis. Why do I have to pay $9,000 a year, and they get away with $1,500? Most of them are on private insurance, but they’re the same as taxicabs,” he adds.
Mandronis also dislikes the recommendation that would require a vehicle be registered with the MLS for use as a taxicab as a condition of renewing a taxi owner’s license. This means a plate must be on a car in order to renew it.
“Right now, if the plate is on the car they pay for the renewal, (but not if it’s on the shelf,” he complains. “With everybody going through hard times, the owners might want to park the plate for a few months.”
Fellow owner/operator Gerry Manley is even more dismissive of the report.
“Did they deal with capping the number of PTC’s, or one person paying two licensing fees when somebody else is paying one?” he asks.
“There is so much wrong with this report. I hardly know where to begin, it is so full of inaccuracies, wrong figures, illegalities, and countless conjectures that can’t be supported through facts.”
His chief point of contention is the recommendation for the City to set up an Accessibility Fund Program to financially assist Toronto Taxi License (TTL) owners/operators who work outside of the TTC WheelTrans program, to help pay for their heavy business expenses. All members of the VFH industry, outside of those that operate an Accessible Taxicab Van, would be required to contribute annually to this fund.
Manley finds this so off-putting, he has added it to the list of annual fees he will be withholding this year, in protest.
“I feel sorry for those guys. But every driver in the industry should be supported. We’ve lost 75 percent of our business because of this bylaw,” he states.
“We’re all having financial hardships. We’re all suffering here. So why are you only setting up a fund for them?”
He reminds that such owners were not forced into taking the City-issued TTL, and were warned by many industry members that they would not be able to make a living with this plate.
“For the City to require the vast majority of its VFH industry to subsidize another member’s business interests is not only unfair, it is illegal and immoral, and akin to putting the final financial nail in the rest of our member’s coffins,” he adds.
“We shouldn’t be paying this fund. The City issued these licenses, they didn’t consult with us.”
In contrast, Manley supports the recommendation to remove the requirement for replacement taxi vehicles to be either accessible or alternative fuel, hybrid, or low-emission vehicles.
“I’m very happy about that,” he tells Taxi News. “Not only does it open up the number of vehicles we can buy, but they are a hell of a lot cheaper.”
“Those rules are not needed anymore, because with the strict federal guidelines placed on auto manufacturers over the past decade, they’re all fuel-efficient.”
He also likes the recommendation mandating a stationary rest for VFH drivers’ smartphones, no doubt stemming from the outcry surrounding the January 2018 death of 28-year-old Nicholas Cameron – whose Uber driver had pulled over on the Gardiner Expressway shoulder after dropping his cellphone, and merged dangerously back into traffic causing a fatal accident.
“You should never put your phone to your ear. Ninety-nine percent of cars today have got a Bluetooth on the steering wheel you can push,” he says. “(But) you should have a holder for it. That’s a safety measure.”
(At the June 24 meeting, Cameron’s mother Cheryl Hawkes voiced concerns about the “intense lobbying” by Uber and Lyft at city hall, and the ongoing safety problems she felt weren’t dealt with properly in the report.
Grant also recommends upping the standards of Collision Reporting, suggesting that PTC, limo and taxi brokers shall record and provide collision incident information, including type of vehicle, date and time of incident and location of incident to the nearest intersection.
The Report calls for several amendments to the way PTC drivers are regulated.
It recommends that all new applicants, as of June 1, 2020 must provide proof of the successful completion of the mandatory, MLS-approved training program, and increasing the years of driving history from one year to three years for all new applicants.
Drivers who provide accessible service for PTC’s would have to be licensed under this chapter and meet all conditions of licensing, including the successful completion of an accessible training program. It recommends that every PTC driver be required to be civil and well-behaved, that PTC drivers notify passengers to look for cyclists before exiting a vehicle and post a Watch For Bikes notice in the vehicle in an approved location.
Another recommendation would prohibit a PTC from allowing vehicles with the same colour scheme as already used by a taxi brokerage.
Similarly, there were several recommendations designed to loosen up on the rules governing limousines. That would include: removing the requirement for limo owners to enter into service agreements, to permit them to dispatch their own limousine and/or accept service requests; removing the minimum fare requirement of $70 per hour for the first two hours; permitting limo owners and brokers to set rates to be charged on a flat or hourly basis; and removing the stretch-to-sedan ratio to allow limo brokers to determine the appropriate type, and number of licensed limousines required for their business.
General Government & Licensing chair, Councillor Paul Ainslie had a motion approved calling for more information and details from staff on several of the big issues, before the report hits Council.
However, Manley alleges that the sending back of these items was, “nothing but smoke and mirrors”. He believes the vast majority of the recommendations will be approved, and this will, “just about push the existing taxi industry over the edge of the abyss.”
In the Toronto taxi business since 1961, Mandronis alleges cab interests have, typically, been paid lip service by the City.
“It doesn’t matter how many times we have consultations. For whatever experience we have from so many years, they ignore you,” he says.
“They never correct anything. They just make some small changes. They don’t come to the main issues.”