TTL operators struggle to make ends meet while demand for WheelTrans is going through the roof…
by Mike Beggs
A rumour that the City of Toronto is planning to issue even more Toronto Taxi Licenses (TTL’s) is cause for concern across the city’s cab industry.
Industry leaders agree that the 550 existing TTL’s already amount to a vast oversupply of these cost-prohibitive, wheelchair accessible vans, which have elicited only minimal demand.
Veteran driver Gary Walsh scoffs at the prospect of having more TTL’s on the way.
“That’s ridiculous,” he says. “The guys out there are turning their plates back in to the City.
“They’re not getting enough business (from WheelTrans clients who, as it turns out, are still utilizing the subsidized WheelTrans bus service). And half of the regular customers won’t get in these vans because they feel funny, or because they might be taking the ride away from a disabled person.”
Walsh notes TTL holders pay about $60,000 for these modified vans -- easily twice the price of a regular taxi – and suggests anyone accepting a new TTL plate would have to be “stupid”.
Having heard similar rumours, long-time owner/operator Gerry Manley estimates 50 accessible cabs would meet the present demand in Toronto.
“They have 10 times more than they need now,” he says. “In my opinion, it’s just they’re getting around (the January of 2015 Ontario Supreme Court ruling which quashed the mandatory 2024 deadline for converting all taxi licenses to TTL’s).
He puts it down to a cash grab on the part of the MLS.
This situation coincides with the news that, as of January 1, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has expanded WheelTrans eligibility to include people with cognitive, sensory, or mental health disabilities. The TTC made this change to comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code and the province’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
According to a Toronto Star story, in 2016 WheelTrans carried 3.9 million passengers with disabilities door to door in specialized buses or contracted taxis.
But with the city’s rapidly aging population, demand for WheelTrans was already climbing before the new eligibility criteria kicked in. According to the TTC, in the five years before 2016 demand increased by 29 percent, and in 2017 alone it is expected to climb by another 20 percent, to 4.7 million trips.
The 2017 budget for WheelTrans is more than $140 million, up from $116.7 million in 2016.
Walsh suggests that, down the road, contracted wheelchair accessible taxis and sedan taxis could serve as part of the solution for accommodating this dramatic increase in clients, particularly the ambulatory disabled.
But he reiterates that operating an accessible cab is a losing proposition, without some level of government funding (in the form of a purchase incentive on these vehicles).
Manley begrudges the fact that the city’s taxi-cab membership was never consulted before the City set its lofty goals for accessibility. He feels this is because, “The City of Toronto had a hidden agenda to convert their entire fleet to wheelchair accessible vans.”
Running a fleet of about 70 WheelTrans contracted accessible mini-vans, Scarborough City Cab vice president Gurjeet Dhillon relates that, “everyone’s starving” at the moment.
Under the TTC contract, SCC vans can pick up both WheelTrans clients and the riding public at large.
Dhillon was hardly surprised by the latest projections from the TTC.
“No, not at all. We’re always cognizant of it,” she says. “And with the new criteria, demand is increasing across the board and across all cities.
“We are definitely part of the solution.”