November 2014

Sweetheart Uber airport deal just one more turn of the screw

by Mike Beggs

The launch of a year-long pilot project allowing unlicensed Uber drivers to bypass the lineup at the Pearson International Airport taxi compound has more than one Toronto cab industry leader fuming that, “Uber is laughing at us.”

The App’s drivers are now allowed to pick up at Pearson’s Arrivals platforms without having to go through the Compound and get a numbered ticket. However, Uber is taking care of the $15 pickup fee paid by all drivers doing an airport pickup.

Greater Toronto Airports Authority management confirmed the arrangement with Uber – however they failed to respond to an interview request.

But several cab industry leaders had plenty to say about the sweetheart arrangement with this $18-billion San Francisco-based firm, which circumvents conventional taxi bylaws around the world by claiming to be a technology provider – and faces a total of 36 outstanding charges from the City of Toronto.

“We’ve been trying to fight the airport exemption for so many years. This is a joke,” says Sam Moini, a director with the Toronto Taxi Alliance. “People doing illegal runs are now getting away with what we were trying to fight for, legitimately. ‘We reward you for not following the rules.’ The airport is only one example.”

Longstanding Mississauga owner Peter Pellier shares similar sentiments.

“That the GTAA would enter into a contractual arrangement with a company that refuses to be licensed is an outrage,” he states.

However, All-Star Taxi sales manager Mark Sexsmith is among those who believes, “taxi apps are the undeniable wave of the future for the taxi industry.”

And observing that, “the entire regulatory infrastructure of the taxi industry is moving beyond the capabilities of municipal legislators”, he suggests it may fall in line with the call for a single public transportation entity across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, managed by a provincial body (Metrolinx).

“Taxi customers are not particularly concerned with municipal boundaries, and the current taxi industry is constrained in many ways that Uber is not,” he offers.

He argues that provincial regulation of drivers and vehicles would provide the travelling public with a greater sense of safety, while giving the taxi industry a greater degree of security, “knowing that their business is not being held hostage to the whims of local politicians with scant knowledge of their industry.”

Furthermore, he feels the existing system limits the brokers’ usefulness to commercial and institutional customers, “many of which operate across several municipal boundaries.”

“That is one of the reasons the extra-municipal apps are attractive,” he adds.

Pellier maintains that local taxi industries are, “heavily regulated, and for good reason”. He points to the value of criminal checks, driver training, vehicle inspections, commercial insurance requirements, brokerages needing a physical office, a uniform tariff, meter checks, and strict control over the number of taxi plates – to ensure consumer protection, and give drivers the chance to make a reasonable living.

But he acknowledges, perhaps it’s time to give serious consideration to a GTHA plate.

Sexsmith says it would seem incumbent on the provincial government to step in, to ensure the best interests of the travelling public, the industry’s commercial and institutional clients, and taxi drivers.

“No municipality can effectively control the unlicensed carriers operating under international taxi apps. Only the provincial government can take away the provincial plate, and this, as the jurisdiction with the greatest control, should also be the level of government ensuring order in our industry,” he adds.

“I do see the province finally setting the rules down for everybody,” concurs Lucky 7 Taxi owner Lawrence Eisenberg. “It’s better than the City setting our rules and regulations.”

Fellow Toronto owner/operator Gerald Manley agrees that eventually public and private transportation will all fall under, “one big jurisdiction”.

“There’s no doubt the province made a mistake putting the taxis into the municipalities, and a mistake with the new Toronto Act,” he comments. “I’d be in favour of a GTA license, and getting rid of all of the municipal by-laws. “They’re all different, and they can’t enforce them anyway.”

“But that of course begs the question, will that include Pearson -- because that’s federal jurisdiction. I think not.”

However, after more than 40 years of advocating for industry rights at city hall, he observes, “It doesn’t matter what the new system is. They do whatever they want anyway.”

“The laws don’t mean anything. (The City is) already violating the new bylaw, under the Reforms – look at some of the vehicles they’re allowing,” he adds.

Moini complains that Uber, and UberX (which hires private vehicle operators to do ride sharing) are, “getting away with crimes, basically”. Meanwhile, legal Toronto taxi operators pay, reportedly, the highest licensing fees in the world, while being serial ticketed by MLS enforcement officers.

“It’s very lacklustre,” he says of enforcement efforts. “They’re not doing anything to get people out of this city. They could set up a sting operation on the Uber app. They’re letting them get away with it. It’s not fair.”

“We’re investing our lives (in this business), and somebody comes in and they’ve got a private car and they go to it.”

Instead of cracking down on outsiders, he suggests the City seems intent on dramatically overhauling the by-law, and threatening the whole future of the industry.

“I think the City has got to work with us. We want to be working partners with them,” he continues. “I think they don’t. I think we could make this industry very healthy, not only for the industry, but for the people using our service.”

And while Uber has appeared rude, disrespectful, and arrogant to the traditional taxi industry while flying in the face of by-laws, Manley is well used to such behavior.

“That’s the way the City talks to us. We’re viewed as Grade 6 degenerates, with nothing pertinent to say,” he comments. “You tell me what the difference is between what Uber is saying and what the City is saying.”

“Uber pays nothing, and why are we paying these fees? What are we getting for the money we pay. What’s the real reason? Is it really to protect the riding public, or to fill up the coffers of the City? What does the City of Toronto give me that I can’t get in Barrie? Nothing.”

While driving for Scarborough City Taxi, Manley now utilizes the Uber app – with no apologies. He deems its pay-as-you-go model “far superior” to the traditional brokerage dispatch service; and he says, “the customers love it, they know who’s coming for them.”

And in dealing with the App providers, he has a simple suggestion for the longstanding brokerages. “Quit fighting them. Do what they are doing. Quit paying licensing renewal fees. If they don’t have to, why do you?” he says. “Embrace the technology and go into competition with them.”

To this Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard responds, “I very much am cognizant of the fact, if Beck Taxi did what Uber has done, every taxi driver in green and orange would be ticketed. I think it’s very, very interesting, somehow (Uber was) able to enter the market with no repercussions. Meanwhile if Co-op, or Diamond, or Beck did that every taxi driver would be ticketed.”

She agrees the industry has long been treated like it’s, “the bottom of the barrel”.

“The City has always done it. They just bully their way through. Drivers are the punching bags,” she adds. “These people being offered TTL licenses, they’re coming in here (to the Beck office) and they’re just broken. It’s like a dishonorable discharge for all these guys. It’s too much. ‘This is what you reward me with, I waited 17 years in line.’”


© 2014 Taxi News

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