PVAC holds off Accessible issuing, sort of…
by Mike Beggs
Mississauga’s Public Vehicle Advisory Committee (PVAC) has heeded industry’s call for a moratorium on Accessible plate issuances, pending the completion of the ongoing Taxi Review -- but with a hitch.
The motion approved at the March 3 PVAC meeting will allow five Accessible plates being issued to service Region of Peel TransHelp to go ahead, on a “temporary basis”.
In light of the City’s issuance of nine “A” plates in total since last September, veteran owner Peter Pellier requested a bylaw amendment to freeze issuances, “to ensure a fair and balanced Review.”
“We are in the middle of a Review of the issuance model, and in the meantime the City continues to issue plates,” he said, in a deputation.
“I think that it’s counterproductive, and injurious to the industry.”
He noted that some driver applicants have sat on the waiting list for decades, while Accessible plates are issued almost immediately to the city’s brokerages.
“Put yourself in the shoes of those driver applicants,” he added.
But the PVAC’s new Chair, Ward 6 Councillor Ron Starr interjected that with TransHelp moving towards a more modern model for accessible service (from a 24-hour, to 30-minute advance booking policy), the City was willing to help by issuing these five plates on a temporary basis. And he’d rather see the contract go to a Mississauga brokerage, than to an outside carrier.
“It’s not a carte blanche on licenses,” he stressed. “They’re filling a gap right now.”
In a briefly heated exchange, Pellier countered that, “When it comes to plate issuances there is no temporary basis.”
Afterward, he philosophized that, “democracy can get passionate”. But he still contested the notion of a temporary plate issuance.
“There’s no such animal,” he said.
“That’s going to be five vehicles at $50,000, plus insurance. After nine months what happens to these vehicles? The guys who own them will come forward to ask for their licenses to be carried forward -- and the five drivers will be there with them.”
Outside consultant Dan Hara provided a progress report on his Review, which is covering such key items as meter rates, plate issuances, accessible taxis, and the future of taxicab applications. He’s on schedule to deliver his Draft Report at April PVAC, and Final Report in June.
PVAC brokerage rep Baljit Pandori questioned why the consultant’s data relies on dispatch trips only, and, “doesn’t show anything from the driver’s side of things” -- like the number of hail pickups, or how long they’re sitting between orders?
Hara responded that, “When we interviewed industry members, we asked them to report on driver factors.”
PVAC Citizen Member Nabil Nassar was among those to express concerns about the industry trend toward the one car-one driver model.
“The problem you see there is the disappearance of fleets. Where will these people go to hire night drivers?” he asked. “If it’s one driver per taxi, clearly they’re going to go out at the peak times. This creates an atmosphere for companies like Uber to thrive.”
Hara acknowledged that, “Ultimately, it’s a choice to put a second driver on, but because of the cost of insurance not a lot of people are.” (While a single driver can still get insurance for about $5,000 per year, the premium with a second driver is approximately double that. And the cost for insuring accessible taxis is even higher).
“If you’re mandating it as a strategy, then there’s going to be choices. You could have single shift taxis,” he said. “There’s a lot of things you can do.”
All-Star Taxi manager Mark Sexsmith warns that the issue of insufficient night shift taxi service should not be addressed by simply issuing more taxi plates. He says this would be attacking the symptom, not the root cause of the problem.
And echoing the sentiments of many Toronto taxi industry leaders, he suggests extra plates, and the resultant diluted income levels would result in poor service for all customers -- as drivers would shirk on vehicle quality and maintenance, and work extra hours endangering the safety of both themselves and the public.
“Operating a taxi will come to be seen as a marginal occupation, thus attracting few individuals that might be actually interested in making the industry a lifelong occupation,” he writes, in a letter to the PVAC. “Driver quality, and thus customer satisfaction with the service will deteriorate and the downward spiral of the industry will continue. Those customers who require accessible taxi service will especially suffer, as it will be more difficult to recruit capable, caring drivers.”
He cites the insurance crisis as the major impediment to the industry’s ability to provide quality 24/7 service.
“The night shift is less attractive to operators because of the lower income levels generated,” he continues. “Perhaps, the City needs to look at a night time meter surcharge. Another incentive could be preferential plate renewal rates for multiple driver vehicles.”
Speaking of Uber, the high-profile, illegal ridesharing company was the subject of a lengthy discussion at PVAC.
According to a February 18 staff report, Uber is operating in Mississauga contrary to the requirements of the City bylaw and the Highway Traffic Act. And 52 charges have been laid to date -- with 31 charges against Uber, and 31 against taxi drivers. Staff noted that Uber has launched its three different app-based car services (Uber Black, Uber Taxi and Uber X) within the West End suburb.
Pandori deemed Uber, “a very serious concern”, with its popularity in Toronto spreading out toward Mississauga.
“Is it possible we can do more (to crack down on them)?” he asked.
Daryl Bell, Manager, Mobile Licensing Enforcement explained that under the municipal bylaw, Licensing enforcement officers can tackle Uber, but not Uber X – which is now being seen in large numbers.
“The bylaw says any ticket we give has to be to a licensed taxicab, and that’s how Uber is skirting around our bylaw,” he said. “Unfortunately, our hands are tied. The province has (the power to enforce against private vehicles).”
Airport limousine owners rep Craig McCutcheon observed that, “Uber isn’t going anywhere, but it needs to be regulated.”
He said most customers “don’t care” about calling Uber for a licensed taxi, and that, “They want Uber X, and only Uber X.” He noted that much of the opposition to Uber across North America is coming from the established brokerages, while, for the most part, “drivers love it”, because it gives them the choice of three different services to work for.
And, McCutcheon noted that while his company (Rosedale Livery) is bound to a cost-prohibitive, one stretch for every five limos ratio provision in the Toronto bylaw, Uber is subject to zero rules and regulations.
Taxi brokerage rep Gurvel Singh argued that if the City can’t issue tickets to the private Uber X cars, it should lay off the heavy ticketing of licensed cabs. (With complaints resurfacing that, “the human side is missing” when it comes to the ticketing of cabbies, a motion was approved for staff to reexamine its report on Enforcement with two members of the PVAC).
Bell supported the idea of going to the province (put forth by past Mayor Hazel McCallion),” because Uber operates right across Ontario, not just in Mississauga.”
Starr observed that with its multiple levels of service, “Uber is keeping a step ahead (of the authorities) -- because it’s Uber, Uber X. This is a cat and mouse game.”
New Vice Chair, Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish concurred that, “This is like putting your finger in the dike, to keep the floods back.”
“This is almost an impossible task, and the only way you’re going to get any success is to get the province, and federal government involved. You don’t need to do a lot of work with the City, it’s not going to work.”
Staff observed that Toronto and Montreal have both informed
Uber that it is not captured by the “broker” definition in their bylaw – and that with a court case outstanding, Toronto staff is not in talks with Uber.
Pandori noted that licensed Mississauga brokerages must abide by all municipal, provincial and federal laws (and absorb the time and expense of everything from the taxi driver training course, to mandatory in-vehicle cameras). “(So), it’s easy to see why Uber has amassed such wealth, when they do not comply with any industry laws or standards,” he stated.
He noted that on October 2014, Uber received an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau, which cited complaints over unexpectedly high charges (during its periods of “surge pricing). Uber’s level of insurance has also been brought broadly into question.
A staff report related that some North American cities have begun pilot programs, allowing such ridesharing companies to operate while they determine the best regulatory approach. “It had been noted that the presence of such apps during the pilot programs has often promoted a healthier competition, as it has forced the taxi industry to make some upgrades,” the report reads. “Many cities are currently undertaking a review, or have set up a task force to help modernize the laws and regulations governing the taxi industry.”
The Uber App has been embraced by many consumers, because of its reported shorter wait times, and user-friendly ordering and payment processes. The San Francisco-based company also claims to create jobs, improve the environment, and reduce drunk driving.
Meanwhile, elections to Mississauga’s Public Vehicle Advisory Committee were scheduled for March 30 and 31. The terms of office of elected members will run for the term of Council, expiring December 31, 2018.
The next PVAC meeting will be on April 21.
Gerry Manely - Reports