Staff update on Mississauga’s PTC pilot project stingy with the facts
by Mike Beggs
Mobile Licensing staff offered updates on two key issues at the April 17 meeting of Mississauga’s Public Vehicle Advisory Committee (PVAC): the ongoing Pilot Project for Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s), and the Vehicle-For-Hire Accessible On-Demand Project.
The 18-month TNC trial project commenced last summer, essentially to study the best way to license Uber under a “replacement bylaw”. Uber’s chief rival Lyft has since entered the market and is also providing data to the City.
But while taxi industry members were anxious to know exactly how many Uber X vehicles are on the road, their run counts, and the amount of money Uber has paid to the City to date (at 30 cents per run), there were little or no numbers provided in the verbal update delivered by manager of mobile licensing enforcement, Michael Foley.
“They’re keeping a tight lid on it,” said Aaroport Taxi owner Sami Khairallah after the meeting. “We know the City of Toronto has made $8.5 million (on the 30 cents per run levy on Uber X runs). Why is Toronto revealing the number they’re collecting and Mississauga is not?”
He suggests Mississauga doesn’t want to reveal these numbers, “because it will scare the heck out of the taxi industry.” But he says taxi interests don’t really need to be told, when they can see for themselves that some 30 plates are on the shelf and, “You’d be lucky to get $200 a month for a plate.”
PVAC brokers rep Baljit Singh Pandori was frustrated in his efforts to get such information.
“Every time I asked the question, they wouldn’t open up to us,” the Blue & White Taxi president told Taxi News.
Foley explained that, in the past it has been the City’s policy not to release such figures as taxi brokerage run counts, because, “It could create problems from a competitive standpoint.”
“It will be less of a mystery,” he reassured committee members. “The numbers will come out at the end of the project. We’re working to provide a report and it should be on time.”
However, All-Star Taxi marketing manager Mark Sexsmith agreed, “We should know those numbers”, given the dire shape of the cab business since Uber hit town.
“It’s something in motion right now, and all they can do is tell us they’re monitoring it,” he said. “The problem is, this TNC project is supposed to be 18 months. What happens on January 1, 2019 when it’s over? Are the TNC’s going to get off the road? The new Council won’t have its first meeting until March of 2019, so they get to stay on for three months for free.”
Meanwhile, a request by taxi industry member Tajinder Singh Gill to remove the bylaw provision stating that a person can’t own more than 12 taxi plates was received for information.
He argued that because there’s no limit on the number of Uber or Lyft drivers during the Pilot, ‘it seems unfair” there’s a cap on individual plate-holders.
Foley responded, “There is a significant difference between TNC’s and taxis. The TNC companies, they don’t own these vehicles.”
He further explained that under the trial project, “The goal is to even the playing field between taxis and TNC’s on a temporary basis, before addressing changes of a permanent nature under a replacement bylaw. For instance, the City has stopped doing driver training during the Pilot.”
Foley then moved on to his next topic on the agenda, Mississauga’s Vehicle-For-Hire Accessible On-Demand Project.
He said this is a “complex” issue, with the Province pushing for equal access to on-demand transportation service for all (under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), while taxi operators providing such wheelchair accessible taxi service are faced with an exorbitant upfront purchase price (of $55,000-plus) and heavy expenses on these converted vans, coupled with a distressingly low demand amongst those with disabilities and the able-bodied community, alike.
Foley acknowledged it is “difficult to gauge” the exact demand for wheelchair accessible taxi service. However, he cited Statistics Canada figures from 2012 indicating the number of people who need this service amounts to 1.5 percent of the general population, and noted that figure is similar in the U.S.
In Mississauga, he noted that: 11,400 out of 761,000 people require the use of a wheelchair, or similar assistive devices for mobility: that 6,600 of the disabled are over 65; and that 14.2 percent of Mississaugans are 65-plus. But he cited scant demand for real time accessible taxi service among this age group, because of such factors as social isolation, serious diseases or conditions, fixed income, and trips provided by family or residence.
Indeed, with the vast majority of those with disabilities still using the Region Of Peel’s subsidized TransHelp bus service, Foley told taxi industry members, “You really only need about 11 wheelchair accessible taxis.”
He said Mississauga currently has 36 of these vans, and suggested the City will have to offer a subsidy, “to address the significant cost difference between standard taxis, and accessible taxis.”
“The industry is in a bit of a flux, and the accessibles tend to be the weakest link because of the price of the vehicle,” he explained.
“We have a responsibility to address the issue, and something will have to be provided through the City -- because the solution will involve TNC’s.”
Pandori noted his company has four accessible cabs which have to be off the road by April 3, and asked if there is going to be an extension granted?
Foley said the City was planning to address the extension issue.
Afterward, Pandori observed, “We’re (in danger of) losing four more cars. It is weak demand. If people want accessible service, they can call TransHelp.
“We can put on three regular taxis, or one accessible. It’s too expensive.”
Likewise, Khairallah said, “I just returned a plate and took the car off the road, because there’s no business.”
Long-time accessible taxi driver Ron Baumber can vouch for Foley’s findings that there is “sufficient capacity” and then some.
“My feelings are that we have enough accessible vehicles,” he says. “Can you get one at night? Not a chance. Who is going to put on a vehicle at night to get two calls? Realistically, it’s not going to happen.”
Sexsmith suggests, “The wheelchair accessible situation is in a real crisis. (The City) really has to come up with something, or there won’t be wheelchair service other than WheelTrans.
“We can’t rationalize this service with the costs (associated with it). It’s not practical,” he says.
He explains that the four taxi brokerages were issued their accessible plates by the City, and then offered a financial incentive to drivers internally by waiving the leasing fee of approximately $1,000 per month. But with the devastation Uber has wreaked on the business, he says this incentive to drivers has all but disappeared.
“Rentals are down to $200 a month. By the end of the pilot, plates will be worth nothing,” he continues.
“There has to be a subsidy. That’s the only way it would work.”
“They have to be subsidized. How can you run a vehicle which costs five times as much? Our taxi meter rate is 20 years old. Have you looked at the price of gas recently?” he asks.
“Now all of the plates (and lease rates are practically) worthless, where’s the added value there? I don’t know what kind of subsidy it will be Ð on the purchase of the vehicle, or on the fare. I think they need to do both, because it’s a seven-year venture.”
He notes he recently had to travel all the way to the manufacturer in London, Ont. to have his accessible van repaired.
Michelle Berguist, project leader, transportation planning, then gave an update on the “Mississauga Moves” Transportation Master Plan, under which the City’s long-term goal is, “having people being able to get around without a car.”
She reported that over 3 million trips are taken on the average week day in Mississauga, with 87 percent of them done in an auto and only 8 percent via public transit. But she noted “things are changing”, with 49 percent of Mississaugans now living in a townhome or a tower.
The final plan for Mississauga Moves (mississaugamoves.ca) is expected to be presented in 2019.
The next PVAC meeting will be on June 12 at 10:30 a.m., followed by the summer recess.
And, Foley explained that with the municipal election coming up on October 22, the upcoming PVAC election will not take place until March or April of 2019.
In the meantime, Sexsmith says Mississauga taxi operators are stuck in limbo, much like their Toronto peers awaiting the Staff review of Toronto’s Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw.
“You talk to every politician in Mississauga, and they say, ‘There’s a pilot project on, we can’t make changes,’’ he adds.
“Everybody is fixated on Uber that it can save all our problems. It’s, ‘Oh, technology.”’