Struggling drivers feel ‘betrayed’ by Mayor Tory and city hall
by Mike Beggs
Surely, a sign of the desperate times for Toronto taxi interests, a whopping 10 cabs were overloading the stand outside St. Joseph’s Health Centre at midday on a recent Thursday.
“Look at the lineup,” winces Ambassador Festus Egwuenu.
More than 35 years on the road, he claims to have lost half his income since Uber arrived in Toronto in 2012, flooding the market with some 60,000 cars over the next six years with the strong blessing of the riding public, Mayor John Tory and Toronto Council.
“I’m disappointed. Betrayed. Basically, the whole Council and the Mayor they’re not listening to us,” he says.
“No single taxi driver in this city has respect, right now.”
This gracious Nigerian native came to Canada 49 years ago, got his Grade 12, and went on to earn degrees in Political Science and Sociology at York University. By driving taxi and supply teaching, he and his wife finally managed to pay off their house last year. Now collecting the Canada pension, the father of three says, “I have a little income, but it’s tough. I’m still driving at 74.
“I replaced my car four weeks ago for $34,000, and I’m now paying $500 a month off that,” he relates. “I owe $4,000 on my HST from last year. I’ve been owing every year, because there’s no (real) money coming in.”
Like many cab drivers, Egwuenu bristles about the way the City allowed Uber to operate outside the law for several years while building up its fleet, then licensed and granted them unlimited entry into the market in 2016 -- while creating a so-called playing field he says is anything but level.
“Look at this, I have to pay $130 to drive a taxi. And the Uber guy uses a G license,” he beefs.
“I went to Centennial College to learn the Geography, History and important places in the city and had to pass with 85 percent (and now under the new Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw, they’ve closed down the Driver Training School).” He claims many Uber drivers don’t know their way around town.
And he relates how a passenger recently canceled a run to the airport, after he quoted him a $35 rate -- because Uber could do it for $15.
“With all of the bills I pay, it’s not fair,” he says.
What’s more, with his plate value reduced to around $80,000 and lease rates well down, he’s “afraid to rent it out”, after experiencing some hassles with lessees in the past.
With the “chicken change” they’re left with, Egwuenu can see how a driver like New York’s Douglas Schifter could be pushed to commit suicide, in early February.
“All of these (drivers), they sleep in their cars. This job is a killer. You are drinking coffee so much, you’re not sleeping well. You’re not keeping healthy. You’re life is being reduced,” he comments.
“And, the licensing inspectors, they go looking for trip sheets,” he continues. “Certainly, they don’t check Uber, because Uber is owned by the big guys, the people who speak.”
He doesn’t see much of a future for Toronto’s taxi industry -- not unless the members are willing to fight for it.
“Drivers and brokers, we’re not doing anything,” he says. “United we stand, divided we fall. If we all stick together and form a very solid union, this guy (Mayor Tory) doesn’t do what he’s doing.”
Likewise, an eight-year man named Pema says, “Business is very bad -- waiting for somebody, and there’s nobody. Hours and hours.
“I’m just trying. You have all these problems -- that’s all we can do. We are working from 5 a.m. until 6 in the evening and make nothing. It’s hard to pay the bills,” the Tibetan native adds.
And bad enough there are 60,000 Ubers to compete with, he points to one of many perceived inequities between how taxis and PTC’s are allowed to operate.
“Uber drivers, they don’t have commercial insurance,” he alleges. “All of the taxi drivers have commercial. It’s safer for the customer and the driver.”
A Beck Taxi driver behind him on the stand says “it’s totally unfair”, that licensing enforcement officers are failing to crack down on the huge percentage of Uber X drivers alleged to be working without the obligatory identification sticker.
“There are so many problems. We should sit down at the table and discuss this with the City. But they don’t want to,” he says.
When asked if he considers looking for another line of work, he responds, “I’m 70 years old, I like to drive taxi.”