July 2014

Outraged by City’s unfairness, driver launches ombudsmen’s petition

by Mike Beggs

While the Toronto Taxi Association fine-tunes its legal challenge of the City’s controversial new cab By-Law, veteran shift driver David Rice is attempting to pursue another legal avenue.

He recently circulated an Ombudsman’s petition against the February 19 Council decision approving such measures as the new Toronto Taxi License and on-demand 100 percent wheelchair accessible taxi service, which many industry leaders fear could be the final death blows for a struggling industry.

As a fleet driver, Rice doesn’t stand to lose any personal assets if the City is allowed to proceed with its plans but he nonetheless sees them as a direct attack on his livelihood. And, although his petition met with minimal support, Rice’s desire to personally get involved in the fight speaks volumes about the industry’s frustration level with a regulator he declares has been, “ignorant and abusive.”

“I just felt that, over the years, the City has been unfair to everyone. It goes to the extent it could be considered criminal,” he alleges. “I feel the Ombudsman is the best route to go – their job is to fight for fairness. But you need the numbers.”

While he didn’t attend the February 19 Council meeting where these motions were passed, Rice has witnessed enough of the City’s heavy-handed regulation of the industry during his 33 years on the road. He feels the Reform package, “was just unfair altogether.”

“Myself, I’m more interested in fairness,” he elaborates. “I want somebody to look at it. I think there has been so much unfairness, it would make a lot of sense to get a public investigator involved.

“I think they were not above board. They had a pre-set agenda.”

He points to the unfairness visited on the long-time owners, owner/operators and widows who may see their life’s savings and retirement security reduced to nothing, thanks to the heavy limitations the City has imposed on the TTL

“There’s so much that’s unfair for people who invested their lives, it boggles the mind,” says Rice.

Furthermore, he believes those drivers supporting the TTL have been misled, and will “never have that opportunity” of collecting a “taxi driver’s pension”.

“Some people are saying, ‘We will be better off. We will have a license.’ They don’t take into consideration the expenses will wipe out any advantage,” he says. “Every shift driver is in that same boat. If you buy a plate, what’s it going to be worth if it’s wheelchair accessible? They can sell it like a Standard plate, but they won’t get a decent income out of it.”

And he feels the City has overcrowded the streets with cabs since 1998.

“I just drive on the weekend, and it’s slow quite a lot of the time. The last few years, it’s the first time I ever had to pay out of my pocket for the pleasure of working,” he muses.

Rice is disenchanted with the Toronto Taxi Industry Review process, which Licensing & Standards Chair Cesar Palacio promised would be, “an open and transparent process.” He notes the number of reported stakeholder suggestions has somehow shrunk from 5,000 to 4,000, and wonders, “Was the Report condensed, or was it sabotaged?” And he claims, when he attended the first TTIR drivers consultation it appeared, “people were preordained to speak.”

“I would have spoken. I had a lot of good suggestions I would have voiced,” he beefs.

Rice distributed 160 petition lists to 10 dispatch offices, 14 garages, over 100 drivers, one insurance company, and one newspaper, and received zero responses beyond his own garage. He’s considering sending it out again with a different approach, to see if he can get, “a decent number of signatures”.

“I’m kind of upset that drivers weren’t more upset themselves,” he comments.

“This is not really my primary career, I do this two days a week. For some it is their whole life, I’d think they’d have more of a concern than I would. But these guys work so hard, it’s hard for them to get their nose into it.”

He would send this petition to the federal, provincial, and municipal Ombudsmen simultaneously, so if things stall at one level, “they can’t shuffle it off.”

“I’m not into the legal aspect,” he says of the current state of industry affairs. “The problem I have seen is that every single issue has to be fought individually. The Ombudsmen can investigate every single issue themselves, and eventually recommend something. To me, it makes sense to use an office like that. And we pay for it.”


2014 Taxi News

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