Taxi owner’s personal review of Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw concludes Mayor’s promised ‘level playing field’ is a total failure
by Mike Beggs
With Toronto Municipal Licensing & Standards more than six months behind in its one-year review of the new Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw, veteran owner/operator Gerry Manley has taken his own comprehensive look at its contents.
And he concludes that the City has categorically failed to deliver on Mayor John Tory’s promise of a “fair and level playing field” between taxis and Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s) – pointing out a staggering 51sections and three appendixes of the new code that he believes require attention.
As just one example of the inequities, he notes cab drivers are only allowed to purchase approved vehicles as specified in the bylaw, while PTC drivers are free to purchase any four-door vehicle.
But more to the point, Manley believes sections of the bylaw lie in conflict with such senior statutes as the Charter Of Rights and Freedoms – Equality Rights, the Social Contract, the Competition Act, the Family Act, the Succession Act, and the City of Toronto Act (2006).
“At this juncture in time, the City has created a bylaw that does not work,” he states emphatically.
He estimates taxi driver revenues have dropped off by 60 percent since Uber’s arrival in 2013, while plate values have fallen from upwards of $300,000 to approximately $90,000, destroying the plate owners’ hard-earned retirement security.
“I do not understand why Staff, the Licensing & Standards Committee, City Council members and the Province of Ontario, who could have stopped this bylaw, regardless of the City of Toronto Act’s self-governing rights, were all complicit in the financial ruination of a long-established industry which has served the citizens of this City for decades with distinction, and now for all intents and purposes is being deregulated,” he comments.
Manley notes the City allowed Uber Technologies and its drivers to work in Toronto with impunity and without the fear of prosecution in the courts for over three years, from 2013 through 2016 – with the riding public flocking to its cheaper, convenient app-based service.
“That three-year period gave the PTC’s an unfair advantage over our membership, who because of bylaw constraints could not compete, suffered dramatic losses in wages, and were left with a bare percentage of the value of their businesses that they spent decades building,” he asserts.
And he alleges that was followed up by the “favoritism” shown to Uber drivers in the VFH bylaw, passed on July 15, 2016.
He points out that while all cab drivers must personally hand in their criminal background checks, proof of insurance, and mechanical inspection certificates at MLS offices, under the de facto self-regulatory powers granted Uber this driver information is provided to the PTC, which then simply informs the City that each driver has met these criteria.
However, the standards of PTC background checks have come under media scrutiny the world over, given the high number of sexual assaults and other crimes being committed by their drivers. And many Toronto taxi industry leaders question whether Uber and other PTC drivers have made the obligatory disclosure to their private insurer that they are using their vehicles for commercial purposes, or have put their vehicles through proper inspections.
“With 50,000 Uber drivers, can you produce at least 150,000 pieces of documents every month that show they’ve met these requirements?” Manley asks. “I don’t think so.”
“And this is not just happening in Toronto,” he continues. “This is happening in municipalities across the province. Once (Uber) got Toronto to approve (its Draft Bylaw), the others followed in line, because of Toronto being the biggest city in Canada.”
As an historical overview, Manley notes that Council adopted three principles for regulating the taxi industry at the launch of the most recent Taxi Reforms in December of 2011: the economic, social and environmental well-being of the City; the health, safety and well-being of passengers and drivers; and the protection of person and property.
But in October of 2012, a fourth key principle was added -- the economic viability, and sustainability of the taxicab industry.
And he claims the VFH Bylaw “completely destroys” that fourth principle, by allowing open entry to Uber X, and other PTC vehicles.
“The addition of 50,000-plus PTC workers, which are growing exponentially by the day -- especially with the recent addition of Lyft, plus a couple of smaller PTC’s -- combined with the already oversaturated taxi fleet, cannot possibly be financially viable,” he states. “They’re going against the social contract, to give us a chance to make a reasonable living.”
Going by the taxi industry’s traditional issuing formula, he suggests Toronto can support no more than 4,000 cars – but the City is now flooded with “15 times” that number.
“You have 60,000 vehicles trying to survive by eating from the same pie,” he says.
What’s more, he suggests granting open entry to Uber, and other PTC’s also lies in violation of the first principle of the Reforms, with regards to the environmental well-being of the city.
“You’ve got 50,000 more cars. The current fleet size contradicts the City’s program to reduce vehicle congestion in the downtown core, and adds to the health dangers to both pedestrians and other vehicle operators by greatly increasing the carbon footprint. These extra vehicles are adding excessive, and unnecessary green gas emissions into the air.”
Manley believes his assertions clearly show that Toronto’s taxi-cab industry was “discriminated against”, under the new bylaw. But he says this is nothing new, and that it is, “continuing to this day.”
“I have very little faith that the City, or the Province have an interest in creating a fair and level playing field for our members, because for the past 45 years government has never indicated a desire to do so. And the City is fixated on always increasing licensing revenues, not on doing the right thing,” he alleges.
According to MLS staff, during the 2012 Taxi Reforms, the City engaged with 4,500 stakeholders through more than 40 consultations, 100 major stakeholder meetings, and three issue-based surveys, culminating with the Taxicab Industry Review on January 4, 2014 at City Council, which contained 40 recommendations.
But at the first meeting of the Reforms in December of 2011, Manley was “taken aback” by walking in and seeing a list of several agenda items posted by Staff on a large board, “before our industry members even had an opportunity for any agenda items input.”
“I knew right then and there the City had come to the table with a hidden agenda, and pre-conceived notions as to the direction they thought this reformation should take, and that future meetings would only be held to satisfy the provincial mandate that major stakeholder consultations must be held if bylaw changes are to be made,” he alleges.
And despite the thousands of hours of taxi industry input, he claims the reform process was “a total waste of time for all concerned, and a complete disaster from our membership’s perspective”, given the content of the VFH Bylaw enacted on July 15, 2016.
According to Manley, PTC’s were NEVER discussed during the Reforms, and cab industry members were never given the opportunity to address this topic, also violating Principle No. 4.
“I can produce 20 guys who will sign affidavits to that effect. And (there was a licensed) PTC in the city at the time, which was Hailo,” he says.
At this stage, he feels the options for the City of Toronto are clear: either scrap the contents of this bylaw and come up with a true level playing field between cabs and PTC’s; or follow the Province of Quebec’s lead for industry compensation for allowing Uber and PTC’s to enter the taxi marketplace without authority, “which disrupted, and destroyed the taxi industry’s business.”
For the first option to work, he suggests the City and the Province must come to the table “without any preconceived notions, or hidden agendas on what is necessary to fix the issues in this industry.”
“Mayor Tory’s claims that this bylaw achieves a fair and level playing field for all are vacuous, being nothing more than political rhetoric, and a far cry from the truth,” he alleges.
He also discounts MLS executive director Tracey Cook’s comments that she “turned a corner” on Uber after attending a seminar on the new “Sharing Economy”, hosted by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Cook had previously led the City’s (unsuccessful) application for a court injunction against Uber.
“I find it hard to believe that she suddenly, from one meeting, had an epiphany that a Sharing Economy is the way to go,” he alleges. “In my opinion, her 180-degree turnaround wasn’t centred on what she heard during the Ontario Chamber of Commerce meetings, but came through pressure from the present City Hall administration headed by Mayor John Tory, who for some unknown reason has been a proponent of Uber Technologies from the outset and showed no consideration as to how this would affect the City’s taxicab industry now, or in the future.”
Manley concedes the taxi industry will be hard-pressed in pushing for legislative changes to the bylaw, “because the City has so much money coming in on a daily basis”, with Uber paying the City 30 cents on every run under the VFH rules.
“Uber is doing 60,000 orders a day in the city of Toronto,” he adds. “That’s $18,000 a day, or $7 million a year.”
Toronto Legal -- and lawyers representing other GTA cities -- have publicly stated that they have no obligation to compensate taxi industry members for their losses because of legislative changes, nor do they have the authority to do so.
Manley counters, “There is no legislation that I’m aware of that would prohibit them from offering compensation, or to stop them from initiating legislation to deal with this issue.”
He points out that Quebec, and the government of Western Australia have already committed to compensating taxi owners and drivers for their losses.
“This is the road Toronto should be walking down,” he says.
“I think that tells us (this path) should be followed in every jurisdiction that Uber operates in. (Quebec and Western Australia) acknowledged it, and this is what we could use in court -- a government acknowledgement that it was wrong.”
Manley argues that if the City wishes to “totally change” how consumers receive servicing in the taxicab industry (via an app), “it cannot be done by totally erasing the past several decades the taxi industry membership spent building their businesses, or without reasonable financial compensation.”
“Because the City’s own employees from MLS, along with the L&S Committee councillors voted on those principles in their entirety, that in my opinion alone would be enough to mount a legal challenge of this bylaw,” he continues.
“And, the fact the City never held major stakeholders meetings as required by the Province on the addition of PTC’s into the bylaw, and the dramatic negative effect this had on the taxi industry would be grounds for the bylaw to be deemed illegally enacted, and therefore redundant, and without effect (in a court of law).”
Manley alleges it’s “well overdue” that Toronto, and Ontario live up to a cornerstone of our culture -- that the government listens to its people.
“We’re supposed to live in a democracy. Unfortunately, equality no longer exists for the members of Toronto’s taxi industry, as that has been replaced by autocratic rule,” he alleges.