Mississauga taxi interests still fuming over city’s decision to issue 38 more plates in tandem with controversial Uber pilot project
by Mike Beggs
Perhaps reflecting widespread disillusionment, only a handful of cab industry members turned out for the September 18 meeting of Mississauga’s Public Vehicle Advisory Committee (PVAC).
With the contentious 18-month Pilot Project for Uber X vehicles now underway, staff filed a report containing a line-by-line review of the Public Vehicle Licensing Bylaw 420-04, as directed by Council in April , “with an eye to eliminating or modifying all and every bylaw or resolution, to parallel those in the regulations for the Pilot Project governing TNC’s. (These measures were pushed for by Councillor Carolyn Parrish, to ensure licensed cabbies would be operating on the same playing field as Uber X cars).
In its review of the bylaw, Staff identified more than 60 possible amendments, and suggested, “a rewrite of the bylaw in its entirety may be appropriate, due to changes in the industry.”
“With 60 amendments in the two schedules, you would have more amendments than the actual bylaw. It might be better to create a replacement bylaw,” explained Michael Foley, manager of vehicle licensing.
In the end, PVAC members approved industry representative Harsimar Singh Sethi’s motion that the Staff report go out to industry for perusal, before being brought back at the committee’s next meeting on October 31.
PVAC Brokerage rep Baljit Singh Pandori agreed, “We should bring the report back one more time and make sure of where we want to go.”
Citizen Member Al Cormier was “extremely supportive” of these amendments, believing for years that the taxi industry has been, “overregulated.”
Staff also recommended an amendment to allow cabbies to go off the meter and offer flat rates up front , so they could, “better compete (with Uber) on price.”
“With the TNC’s, the price is clear before the ride,” Foley said. “With the taxi industry it’s a mystery, because of issues like traffic.”
All-Star Taxi manager Mark Sexsmith objected vehemently to the City’s issuance of 38 taxi plates to drivers on the waiting list, coinciding with the kickoff of the TNC Pilot Project in July.
Noting there are now 32 plates on the shelf, he argued that in putting out these plates Council ignored the advice of taxi industry stakeholders, a unanimous recommendation from PVAC, a Staff report, and the conclusions of outside consultant Dan Hara who observed that Mississauga has an appropriate number of cabs on the road.
“The critical thesis of the Hara Report is that regular taxi service is more than adequate, and that was ignored by Council in their vote to issue 38 taxi plates,” he said. “(The Hara Report stated that) the major shortage is in the supply of wheelchair accessible taxis.”
Sexsmith claimed the $60,000 price tag for one of these converted vans would be “unpalatable” to the 38 drivers. And he called on the City to set up a purchase incentive for these vehicles.
“What businessman will pay $60,000 for a wheelchair accessible car, which has higher insurance rates, and requires vehicle inspections, and training requirements to not even bring in the same amount of money?” he asked. “There’s absolutely no income, and it’s the direct result of Council’s decision.”
He noted that, “I can buy a $15,000 car, rent a plate for $200 a month, and I’m in business as a taxi.”
Foley responded that there is no real limit on the number of plates available, and if a broker wants more wheelchair accessible plates, “they only have to make a business case and we will issue them.”
“But I think it would be prudent to wait for the TNC Report to come out in 18 months (before addressing the issue of subsidies),” he added.
Cormier agreed the economics of running a wheelchair accessible taxi, “have gone out the window.”
He proposed that staff have a report ready for the next PVAC meeting, “with options for getting them back on track”, and his motion carried.
PVAC also approved Sethi’s motion to extend the life of 2011 model year vehicles by one year, “because there is less wear and tear on their cars” (due to the heavy competition from Uber). PVAC Chair Ron Starr said this did not appear to be an unreasonable request, and the motion was approved.
Pandori then asked Staff for an update on TNC’s.
Foley confirmed that, as of July 4, TNC’s licensed to Uber are now operating in the city. He said inspections are being carried out on TNC’s, and that the City is in the process of hiring more inspectors. And data is now being collected from Uber and being monitored.
“They have been very cooperative with the City, and are working very closely with Staff to provide the data. So we are pretty much on track,” he said.
However, Pandori said he doesn’t see any tickets being handed out to Uber X drivers. And he wondered about the status of charges against Uber X drivers, dating back two years.
“They’re still going through the courts,” Foley responded. “There are considerations on both sides, but the courts are looking at it. It’s a big drawn-out process. I think they’re trying to address all 200, or 300 cases at one time.”
Pandori complained that, just like in Toronto, many Uber X vehicles are not displaying the required identification stickers.
“Look at Toronto, they don’t put the stickers on -- which is the most important thing they can do to enforce (the bylaw). Here is no different, they’re not getting a ticket,” agreed Aaroport Taxi owner Sami Khairallah.
“On one side we’re enforcing nothing, on the other side, everything (against taxi drivers).”
Starr informed the Committee that, “I’ve got several calls about unmarked vehicles picking up, and they should be more vigilant on that. It’s scary to think somebody who is not an Uber driver is picking somebody up.
“That’s unfair competition, and they promised they would be identified.”
The Committee also approved Cormier’s motion requesting that a brief Staff report on the Pilot Project be filed at every PVAC meeting, for the duration of the 18 months.
Veteran owner/operators are still seething about the issuance of those 38 “unneeded” plates.
According to Khairallah, “The general feeling (amongst industry members) is we’re on the way to deregulation. They don’t want the regulations. The TNC’s don’t like it, so let’s get rid of it.
“It takes you five years to come up with the bylaw to protect everybody, and here we throw it down the drain.”
Owner Alexander Montadis alleged these 38 issuances were, “the result of blatant political interference in the plate issuance process”, and that industry deputations at city hall are now, “just for show”.
“Council ignored fully and completely the protestations of long-time plate-holders who contributed to the City’s established public vehicle system for over 50 years – and pleaded on bended knee to not issue these plates—and refused to adopt a unanimous PVAC decision not to issue any additional plates,” he wrote in a September 16 letter to the City.
He suggested the political class of the City of Mississauga should, “hang their heads in shame”.
“Where were you to defend the interests and livelihoods of those who worked for, and trusted the City, that they would have a reasonable pension in their old age?” he asked. “The City has washed its hands of its responsibility to its ex-cabbies. They are disposable, unneeded, and have been replaced. PVAC’s credibility as a Standing Committee since 1972 has been reduced to nil.”
After 39 years in the cab business, Frank Leong said there should be some financial compensation for owners.
“My plates are now worth only $20,000 --- before it was $260,000,” he beefed. “I have two plates. I was retired. That was my pension. We got ripped off.
“(Council) didn’t do anything to help us. Nobody cares.”
Sexsmith also expressed concern with a Staff recommendation which would allow corporations to invest in taxis.
“It will get us back to the old days of fleet operators, subleasing, part-time drivers, and dirty cars,” he said. “It just takes us down the Uber road. It’s a race to the