Veteran industry leader and advocate feels betrayed by Mayor Tory and city hall
by Mike Beggs
They’ve failed us. The City’s not protecting us, in any ways or means.”
So comments long-time Toronto independent Aldo Marchese of conditions faced by taxi operators under the Vehicles-For-Hire Bylaw (2016), which has seen the number of Private Transportation Company (PTC) cars swell to 83,000-plus with unlimited entry, all but obliterating the livelihoods of the 5,370 taxi plate owners, and approximately 13,000 drivers.
In this overcrowded market, he commonly finds himself sitting for two or three hours between fares, wondering how the bills will get paid.
“You’re only making 100 bucks a day on average, and your expenses are $75 between repairs, gas, insurance, maintenance and everything else,” he reports.
“Everybody’s suffering...The money has to come from somewhere. It’s just not there anymore.”
Anecdotally, he hears, in many cases, even Uber X drivers themselves are now, “barely making their payments.”
“Who’s making the money? Uber (the company),” he observes.
In the view of Marchese -- president of the Independent Cab Owners Cooperative from 2008 to 2015, and a former representative on the Taxicab Advisory Committee -- over the years, “The City has gone over and above on the regulation of taxicabs”. He contrasts this with the more lenient rules and regulations placed on PTC’s, who operate under what amounts to self-regulation.
“Even at the meetings, they just never listen to us,” he says of the City politicians and bureaucrats.
“(And Mayor) John Tory doesn’t want to know about it. He’s got his mind made up, Uber is here to stay.”
With the City allowing – and some say orchestrating – the massive devaluation of the Standard plate, he wonders, “Why are we still paying $964 for a renewal, and $5,000 for a plate transfer.”
“There are 600 to 700 plates sitting on the shelf. And when the plates sit on the shelf, you still have to renew the sticker. Why is that?”
Like many, he alleges the new regime under Bylaw 546 amounts to, “a money grab” on the part of the City, with PTC’s paying a levy of 30 cents per run.
With the shelving of the City’s Driver Training School, he notes PTC drivers lack training in defensive driving, customer service, dealing with those with disabilities, or CPR, and in many cases, have little grasp of the geography of Toronto streets beyond what their GPS affords them. (He notes when he got his cab license in 1971, he had to score 85 percent or more on the test).
“They never get out of their car, and help the passengers. It’s very unprofessional,” he alleges. “There’s no customer service. There’s disrespect.
“The City has taken away from the professionalism of taxi drivers and given it to the amateur people, who don’t even have a clue where they’re going.”
The fallout takes the form of a preponderance of sexual assaults, murders, and other crimes committed by PTC drivers across the world’s major cities (in the absence of mandatory in-car security cameras and rigorous driver background checks), to traffic fatalities like that of 28-year-old Nicholas Cameron, who, in January of 2018, died in the back of an Uber X car driven by a brand new driver who was confused about which way to take the Gardiner Expressway to Pearson International Airport.
“Nowadays, the City has no regard for public safety,” he says. “City hall, they have to wake up to the tragic reality.”
“They’re making money from Uber (and the other PTC’s). But do they have the same rules and regulations? And if somebody gets in a taxi and there’s a sexual assault, we have to go through the Tribunal. Uber, they just say, ‘Oh, we got rid of them’, (that’s it).”
Under the new rules for vehicle replacement, Marchese is no longer allowed to drive customers around in his traditional cab of choice, a luxurious Lincoln, complete with free candies and bottles of water. He’s now driving a Ford Fusion Hybrid.
Having just turned 71, this gentlemanly native of Italy has built up a clientele which includes sports celebrities like Wayne Gretzky and Robbie Alomar.
“That’s part of my job, the service, and people respect that,” he says. “With Uber, it’s about the price.”
“I’ve got another two-and-a-half years to go before I have to replace my car (in 2021),” he continues. “Whether to invest some more money, I don’t know. If things don’t get any better, what’s the point in investing another $30,000.”
With the plate he was awarded in 1984 now worth only about $20,000, and leases commanding a paltry $200 a month, where does that leave he and other owners who worked in good faith for decades, under the impression their “taxi driver’s pension” would be protected by the City?
“It leaves me in No Man’s Land,” he says. “They don’t have any respect for us. We worked hard all our lives. If you work as a postie, you get a decent pension.”
“We worked hard to get where we are now. But we’re nowhere.”