Veteran taxi driver says he’s running out of road
by Mike Beggs
More than 35 years on the road, Steve DeNicola is yet another quality taxi driver saying he’s “almost done”, finding the conditions under Bylaw 546 intolerable.
He blames the City of Toronto for allowing Uber to operate for three years outside the bylaw without cracking down on them, and for bringing them into the new Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw (2016) under different rules than for
taxis. Most glaring is the open
entry granted these Private Transportation Companies (PTC) – meaning he’s now competing against an extra 90,000 cars, who shell out 30 cents to the City on every run.
“It’s just bad,” he says. “They just let them go. Follow the money. Right?
“I used to joke that I worked twice the hours for half the pay. Now (it’s no joke).”
Playing mostly downtown, he now averages five to 10, usually short, runs on a good day.
“On my worst day so far, it took seven hours to get my first run,” he relates. “You’re driving by people looking at their cellphones (ordering an Uber or Lyft).”
When it comes to the contentious issues surrounding PTC’s, DeNicola suggests that just because the bylaw allows something doesn’t mean serious questions shouldn’t be raised about it. And he alleges, “the proper authorities don’t react.”
For instance, he points to the continuing grey areas surrounding how the PTC’s hybrid insurance works, and whether their drivers have disclosed to their private insurer that they are using their vehicle for commercial work. Heretofore, the City has simply taken the company’s word for it.
“I’ve been told you can’t have two different policies (in Ontario),” he says. “But everybody is (just) going by the bylaw.”
“We should be challenging a lot of things,” he continues. “The councillors who put these bylaws in place, why can’t we take them to task on this?”
The gregarious Cabbagetown native started driving taxi at 21.
“It was really my brothers’ fault,” he jokes. “They both used to be in the taxi business. Now they’re in their respective fields, and I’m still at this.”
But back then he recalls, “You could make a living.”
He received an Ambassador plate in 2001, which fell well short of the promises from the City -- leaving these operators with the expense of purchasing and maintaining a vehicle, but with no resale value, and unable to put on a second driver. (And since the City converted Ambassadors to Standards in 2016, the bottom has fallen out of plate values).
“The (expressed) idea of it was to make better cab drivers, but the City had a different agenda. They were trying to take (the Standard plates) back,” he alleges. “The government is the government. They follow the money.”
He finds matters inexorably worse since the City has licensed PTC’s – with unlimited entry, and what amounts to self-regulation.
And with the closing down of the MLS Driving Training School and inspection station, and meters that are no longer sealed, he alleges the powers-that-be at city hall “don’t have the best interests” of the taxi industry or the public in mind.
“You’ve done so much to deplete the quality of the service. How can you possibly say you’re trying to make this a better system?” he asks. “If they’re trying to say it’s a level playing field, there never was and there never will be.”
He finds more consumers becoming aware of Uber’s surge pricing policy, who as soon as rates start going up, look for a cab instead. And to those huge masses of Millenials fixated on Uber and Lyft’s usually lower rates, he warns, “If you go for the cheaper ride, you get a lower quality service. People are now looking (online) for discount plane rides. I’d rather get the safety.”
DeNicola believes many consumers are as “addicted” to their smartphones as to PTC prices.
“One day I asked a woman why she uses Uber. She said, ‘They’re so convenient’,” he relates. “How are they convenient when there’s a line of taxis sitting there, right in front of your face?”
That said, he has no problem with the technology of app dispatching.
“We’ve upgraded our dispatch systems through the years. Why are we so slow to jump on this one?” asks the grandfather of two.
But like most, he lays the blame for the industry’s problems at city hall, where he no longer attends meetings.
“I don’t waste my time anymore. They have their own agenda,” he says. “You tell them the truth and they don’t really want to hear it.
“I’m disappointed with the Mayor’s lack of support of local business. Uber’s cutting (us out), and they take the profits somewhere else.”
With Toronto Council poised to tweak the VFH Bylaw while its taxi industry burns, he cut right to the bottom line, stating, “We need an income.”