At least Ambassadors are happy! Sound familiar?
by Mike Beggs
That was the state of many Toronto cab industry leaders at the end of the February 19 Council meeting, which overturned the middle ground on cab reform achieved at the January meeting of Licensing & Standards.
Many consider it the City’s final push to wipeout Standard plate values. They foresee a situation where a shift driver can’t find a car, owner/operators won’t put on that second driver because of the high cost of insurance, and “fleets are out of business”, and are turning their minds to legal action, poste haste.
“We’re done. I’m just too upset to talk,” said long-time owner/operator Stephen Hozack, minutes after the meeting.
“I can’t believe these people put this on us. Where is the money coming from, for all of Tracey Cook’s recommendations and more? We all have our mouths open right now.”
One of the leaders of the Toronto Taxi Alliance’s autumn-long campaign to combat the major Framework Report recommendations, Diamond Taxi president Jim Bell was, likewise, incredulous as Council, “took over the proceedings and did away with four years of studies.”
“Once they started the discussion on TTL plates, it was blood in the water and the sharks went into a frenzy,” he says. “They just burned down the plantation house. Forget all these people who bought plates. Forget the $1.4-billion in plate assets effectively gone.”
To Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard’s eye, “There was a complete breakdown in any chance of there being a reasonable outcome.” And she likens the present mood of industry to the David Miller mayoralty era, “when everybody stayed away from city hall.”
“The L&S recommendations, not everybody loved them, but they were a step in the right direction,” she comments. “It was a building up of something, whereas this is just kicking the whole thing down like a house of cards. And the L&S recommendations would have allowed that house of cards to have some foundation.”
“I still fail to see, after all this, how anyone benefits from this Council decision.”
Peter McSherry, who drove taxi in Toronto for more than 40 year years, deems Council’s actions, “an attack on private property.”
“It’s going to bankrupt the industry for everybody. It’s going to wreck the service for the people that need it. It’s a horror story,” he says. “There are many, many recommendations that will take money out of drivers’ pockets.”
McSherry maintains the industry’s biggest problem is the Toronto taxi market is oversupplied by 40 percent already and Council’s latest reforms will only make a desperate situation much worse.
“There were too many plates in 1989,” he adds. “When the recession hit, it was awful.”
A director with the iTaxiworkers Association, Mohammed “Reza” Hosseinioun deemed it a long wait since the 1998 Review, when they should have made it owner/operators and everything would be perfect by now”, and commended the City’s efforts to eliminate the “middle man” from the industry.
“One thing that we really like from Tracey Cook, she diagnosed the problem. She did not come in to create something new. She found out the root of the problem.”
And as for 100 percent wheelchair accessibility?
“That issue can be dealt with one or two years after the Pan Am Games (in 2015 in Toronto),” he says. “We can go to the City and bring a consultant in to find out if we really need 100 percent, or do we need less?”
“I’m telling you these Councillors are so open to listening to us and working with us. Customer service was the major point of these consultations. They wanted to be sure the customers are getting what they are paying for.”
“Naturally, the drivers got big time relief’” he adds. “Now they get an owner/operated car and can have a driver. They know they are safe cars, that go through the car wash ever day. This is what the public desires to get from the industry. And don’t forget we’re Ambassadors to this city.”
Veteran Ambassador operator Owen Leach says Council “did the right thing” by passing the TTL model, but wanted a phasing in of Accessible taxis, not 100 percent.
“I’ve got to be driving, to have the TTL,” he says. “But I can have another driver. Every owner of a cab likes to have the option of having another driver. The option is there.”
Leach was also encouraged that some Councillors, “went so far as to speak of organizing the shift drivers in the work force.”
“They spoke about having protection for shift drivers,” he adds. “That was a big progression in my opinion.”
While no purchase incentives have been forthcoming from the province or the City, he suggests drivers might need some assistance in buying an Accessible vehicle, which comes with a price tag of $50,000-plus.
“They might need the City to act as guarantors,” he offers, “if you’ve got to buy a brand new car for $50,000.”
However, any number of industry leaders has accused the City of attempting to introduce blanket accessible taxi service “on the backs of drivers”.
Hozack is baffled at the economics of having to put a new Hybrid vehicle on, and an accessible vehicle five years down the road.
“You can’t buy a used handicapped vehicle, or hybrid vehicle,” he points out. “Everything’s going to have to be a brand new vehicle. I don’t know what to do.”
“This is a business. This is crazyÉ.And please explain to me how I can make more money with 290 more cars prowling the streets.”
Bell deems it a situation which has gone, “very, very wrong”.
He cites one phone call he received from a senior citizen, living in a retirement home, who was left a plate by her husband, but will soon be required to drive taxi to retain it.
“She was in tears to say, ‘I’m going to be out of the home. I’m going to be out on the street,’” he relates.
And he notes that the TTA “worked very hard” with the Review team only to be disappointed by these left-field developments.
“Nine months ago, we didn’t even know what a TTL was,” he points out.
Eisenberg notes, “They’re taking everybody’s pension, whether the drivers or the owners, and wiping it out with one fell swoop with the TTL. And if the City thinks’ we’re going to talk to them anymore, they’re wrong.
“Tracey Cook didn’t do us any favours. We wasted our time.”
But he says the wheelchair accessible vehicles are the first thing to worry about. “As of July 1, who’s going to take them? The drivers will never to be able to make a living at it. It’s an absolute horror story.”
Facing the prospect of having to return to the job in 10 years time, veteran owner/operator Andy Reti deems Council’s action, “mean-spirited and vicious”. And he points to those owners who earned their plate through many years on the road, only to face the prospect of it being destroyed.
“It’s like blaming the victim here. They promised everybody, ‘This is your pension,’” he says.
He stresses the City spent over two years and millions of taxpayers dollars on the report.
“If these Councillors will just change this on the fly, what’s the point?” he asks.
“I don’t think there is anything there that would help the taxi industry. The biggest loser is the driver. The owner could lose his investment, but the driver can’t make money, whether they like it or not. The drivers screwed themselves.
“We have a lot of emotion here, and a lot of people misled and led down the garden path. If they think this is over, I have some swampland for them in Florida.”
For her part, Hubbard wonders why the City doesn’t take such measures with any other industry it regulates.
“Does every single room in a Toronto hotel have to be wheelchair accessible? It doesn’t matter the demand for it. It’s the right thing to do. There is no other industry at all that is 100 percent wheelchair accessible.”