Will City consider relief on license fees?
by Mike Beggs
Their plate and lease values driven down to nominal amounts, longstanding Toronto taxi owner/operators should at least be entitled to a senior’s discount on licensing and other fees paid to the City.
That’s the vantage of veteran Oakville owner/driver Al Prior, with his Toronto counterparts having just filed for a $1.7-billion-plus class action suit against the City, to compensate for their huge losses in the wake of Toronto Council’s decision to license Uber, Lyft, and other Private Transportation Companies (PTC’s).
“They should demand a senior’s rate for license renewals for plate, taxi license, and other fees in Toronto. Copy that for all municipalities,” he offers.
He says there’s a well-established precedent for this, with several municipalities across the GTA already offering a senior’s reduction on certain licensing fees, such as dog tag renewals.
Aging plate-holders have spoken out about the dim prospects for their retirement years, given the huge proliferation of Uber X vehicles since 2012. But their complaints seem to have largely fallen on deaf ears -- both at city hall, and amongst consumers.
“There has been no public support for taxi issues. But this is one that they cannot ignore, if the public sees that the City is bullying and taking unfair advantage of seniors in the taxi industry,” Prior asserts.
And furthermore, he suggests, “They might make the connection that Uber, their clientele, and others are in actuality a younger person’s (attack) against hard-working seniors, and their ability to enjoy a much deserved retirement.”
And with the Toronto cab industry already defending their “taxi driver pensions”, and “social contract” with the City in their class action initiative, he feels this could become, “a connecting issue”.
Stressing that, “we’re making a lot less than we used to”, Independent Toronto Taxi Inc. president Mike Tranquada stands behind the idea of a senior’s discount, but has his doubts that it could ever happen.
“They should be reducing (our fees) a lot,” he says, “but they’re trying to collect the maximum dollars from both parties (taxis and TNC’s). They should (give us some respect), especially guys driving 40 years or more.”
What’s more, he suggests, “If they’re going to flood the market, then they should provide us with a pension.”
Forty-seven years on the road, Aldo Marchese says it’s “a disgrace” what the City has done to its senior drivers, and that a break on fees is the least they can do.
“They have no respect for the industry,” he alleges. “(Our investment in this industry) was meant to be a pension. There’s just no future for us.”
According to Marchese, plates are now worth only around $30,000, and a lot of the garage plates are sitting on the shelf. But at 70, he keeps driving.
“The thing is, I love my job and serving the public any means and ways I can,” he adds. “But (the City), they just don’t care.”
“(For decades), we’ve abided by rules and regulations the City put on us. And then, there’s Uber and Lyft.”
Of Prior’s suggestion, City Taxi driver Bruce Jesson says, “I’m all for it. I’m 64.”
“It’s not fair (what the City has done to us). None of it is fair. (PTC’s) should never have been allowed,” he comments.
Mark Sexsmith, marketing manager for Mississauga’s All-Star Taxi says the City of Toronto should recognize the fact that many senior industry members, “can no longer rent their plate out, and retire.”
So, they’re forced to remain behind the wheel, their reflexes slowing, and eyesight fading.
“A lot of these guys are going to keep driving and driving,” he relates.
“I’d say the government should move very quickly to resolve this issue, so we don’t have 85-year-olds driving around.”
Tranquada now has one 86-year-old driver in his group.
“It’s dreadful,” he says of their treatment by the City.
Likely or not, Prior’s suggestion underscores the plight of aging owner/operators, and the taxi widows who rely on plate revenues, after building their whole lives around their husbands’ driving careers.
Observing that “we’re screwed”, Jesson worries about bankruptcies, and potential suicides, as have happened in New York.
“I don’t think we’ve hit rock bottom yet,” he offers.
Mississauga plate-holder Geir Klaeboe alleges this all comes down to, “city hall sticking it to the taxi industry.” (His City currently has an 18-month trial project underway for PTC’s, which includes unlimited entry, like in Toronto).
He lays out his numbers.
“First of all, I’ve got to pay over $600 to keep the plate for a year,” he relates. “My rentals have dropped from $900 to $200, so there’s hardly any profit left. It takes three months of rentals before I can pay for the plate.”
Now 74, suffering from diabetes, and getting around in a sit-down scooter, Klaeboe, like so many senior owners, is caught in a “Catch 22” situation.
“I can’t sell the plate, because I can’t get my money back,” he says. “(And the City), they know I can’t drive, but they force me to have a license -- which is $200.“
“I blame the City for everything. Something is wrong there.”
Now in his mid-‘80’s, Toronto and Mississauga owner Carl Rotman says this has become a “hardship” for he and his wife Donna.
“I’m telling you, it’s bad. It definitely has affected our lifestyle.”
Now using a stroller, Rotman “can’t afford to take cabs” anymore, and now relies on TTC WheelTrans service.
He maintains the City, “had no justification whatsoever” for what it has done to he and his peers.
“We don’t deserve this,” he adds.“I tell you, I’m worn out. I’m worried about how this has affected me and my family. …It’s a horror story.
“I bought a plate as an investment for my son when they were worth $225,000. I can’t give them away, right now.”
Mississauga plate owner Peter Pellier shoots down the chances of a senior’s discount, noting they don’t get a break on property taxes either.
“Begrudgingly, municipalities offer senior discounts on services such as transit and senior’s programs -- for the simple reason it makes for good optics, and at the same time doesn’t take a huge bite out of the budget,” he observes. “However, when it comes to big ticket items such as property taxes and license fees, not a chance.”
A plaintiff in the class action suit, Lucky 7 Taxi owner Lawrence Eisenberg questions the City’s right to even collect a licensing fee, never mind offering a discount.
“For what? Why should I give them $975 at all for (a plate) that pretty soon isn’t going to have any worth?” he asks. “How does a business go down to zero?”