Mississauga taxi operators say City’s pilot project is destroying the industry
by Mike Beggs
Mississauga taxi plate owners are calling for a return to the old rules and regulations, when their City’s ongoing pilot project for Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s) wraps up in January.
Like their Toronto comrades, they say they’ve ended up on the losing end of a Wild West situation, where – during the pilot – TNC’s are granted unlimited entry, while once required driver training, vehicle inspections, mandatory cameras, and medical certificates have been eliminated.
The pilot commenced in July of 2017, and was arbitrarily extended for six months by the City. There are three TNC’s in Mississauga, Uber, Lyft and Facedrive.
“We want the level playing field before the arrival of TNC’s. It’s very simple,” states one veteran plate owner, who attended an early December consultation hosted by the City. “What we recommend is a set of rules. Right now, we have no rules.”
He points to the fundamental model for taxi regulation which has prevailed down through the decades, where, “There’s a pie. And, we need a limited number of drivers (to make a living).”
“It’s like comparing apples and oranges. You have a monster corporation, (whereas) we are small business operators,” he continues. “Every month, Uber sends out more cars. How can we compete? With the stroke of a pen, you’ve taken from the poor and given to the rich. That’s not fair.”
Aaroport Taxi owner Sami Khairallah says the situation is getting worse and worse, with 55 of Mississauga’s 700 or so taxi plates now sitting on the shelf. He notes that approximately 40 percent of all Mississauga taxi plates are rented out, often representing the aging owner’s retirement income.
“(They) drove for almost 40 years. They can’t drive anymore, they’re in their 70’s,” he stresses. “We do this as a job. We have no benefits.”
By contrast, Uber, and Lyft have saturated the Toronto and area market with some 70,000 cars -- many of them driven by part-timers looking to pick up pocket money, while having no real stake in the industry.
“We had $1,100 to $1,200 leasing income per month, now it’s gone,” adds owner Balwinder Dhillon. “We have 70 and 80-year-old people with no money. We can’t pay our kids’ university. It’s very hard to live.
“But the City is making the decisions. They put in an extension of the pilot without consulting us.”
Forty-year veteran Hanna Becchara estimates he has lost $300,000 off the value of his two plates during the pilot project.
“I was retired already, but now I’m back to work to start from the beginning,” he relates.
Another owner laments how his plate value has dropped from $240,000 to just $10,000.
“Uber is worth $70 billion, and when it enters the stock market it will be worth $120 billion. (The politicians) took the regulated taxi industry serving the public for 40 years, everything we had, and just gave everything to Uber,” he alleges.
A long-time representative on Mississauga’s Public Vehicle Advisory Committee (PVAC), owner/operator Karam Punian says most taxi industry members believe it’s “not fair” the way City Council has moved forward with the pilot.
“We are paying renewal fees of $700, and (the TNCs) are not paying anything,” he notes. “They must pay $700. We’re paying the money, I’m going to the office, I have to waste my time.
“We want the same rules, so the drivers can make a decent living, and the public gets good service.”
However, he’s among those who suggest the City’s consultation process is, “bogus”.
“Nothing is going to happen,” he alleges. “The City is making 30 cents on each TNC run.”
Khairallah observes that Uber has been grabbing market share from taxis from 2012 to 2017, and that, “unless there is a will for enforcing, we get nowhere.”
And plate owners argue that if the GTA municipalities want to license TNC’s separately, the Uber logo should be a different colour for each city – to provide some “visibility” for inspectors, and for consumers getting in these cars (particularly late at night).
“Nobody knows who their cars are,” says Blue & White Taxi president Baljit Pandori.
He also wants the same rules for wheelchair accessible service to be applied to taxis and TNC’s. Taxi operators pay more than $60,000 for these modified vans, which are also more expensive to operate.
“You can’t put a wheelchair into a Honda Civic,” he beefs. “If we don’t pick up an accessible order, we get in trouble – but Uber doesn’t even have this platform.”
Khairallah notes that, heretofore, the City’s Driver Training course covered such topics as CPR, Sensitivity Training, and Defensive Driving.
“Right now everything is taken away, which is going to cause a lot of problems,” he comments. “Some TNC drivers don’t even know how to get to the airport without GPS.
“The City used to require a physical inspection of the cars. Now you just have to get a mechanical safety certificate, which is only good for 36 days.”
Sixty-two years old and still driving, Jagrag Poonis adds in, “They don’t have the costs of the taxi drivers. How come we pay $10,000 for the insurance, and Uber guys pay $2,000? This is all drama (tonight). Everybody knows what’s going on.”
Owner Amarjid Hehas observes that, “People say taxis are a little expensive. Who sets the price? City hall. Now, they do nothing (to help us).”
While Uber is widely regarded as cheaper than cabs, taxi interests allege its’ practice of surge pricing during peak periods, is a “rip-off”; and while taxis have a fixed meter rate, TNCs can jack prices whenever they want.
Sexsmith alleges Uber is so popular, “because everybody is looking for a cheaper ride”. But he suggests many times TNC’s end up costing more than taxis.
And he notes that while cabbies are routinely hassled by inspectors wanting to see their run sheet, “the Uber drivers never have to (worry about) that.”
Similarly, Mississauga Taxi owner Gus Gharib stresses that – unlike TNC drivers – cabbies will receive a ticket if their roof-light has gone out, must pay an $80 fee to the City to lease out a plate, and will have a ticket mailed to them automatically if they’re late renewing their insurance.
“I feel that we are following the rules and regulations of the City of Mississauga and the other people aren’t,” he alleges. “This puts a lot of pressure on the taxi drivers.”
Plate owners, across the board, insist the pie remains the same or is shrinking, but Mississauga’s manager of vehicle licensing Mike Foley maintains, “(the pie is) much larger than it ever was”, citing the overwhelming consumer response to Uber X service, and more recently Lyft.
“It’s a big thing. It’s popular,” he says. “There’s a group of people who wanted something else, so that’s where your apps (come in). There’s a considerably larger business then the City expected.”
“Something is going to have to change, because clearly the taxi industry wasn’t functioning as well as (its’ members) thought five years ago.”
He stresses Uber, and Lyft offer customers the same universal app wherever they go. “I think that helps them a lot,” he continues. “It’s like with McDonald’s, it’s the exact same food in every city.’
To this Khairallah counters, “If McDonald’s comes in, it has to follow building codes, health codes, and must have (the mandated) insurance. (The TNC’s ), they’re actually telling (the City) what rules should be applied. That’s unfair.”
Furthermore, he claims taxis are providing a public service in Mississauga and are being regulated all the time (similar to the Milk Board, or the Wheat Board), with the number of plates limited, to control the quality of the product.
“(But) the federal government, they are compensating the farmers,” he observes. “If you want to give up the taxi meter, compensate us for our plates and deregulate the industry.”
Sexsmith is among those calling for a compensation package for taxi plate owners, like the province of Quebec has done.
“Compensate the drivers, take all the plates back, and rent them out over seven or eight years,” he suggests. “From then on, the City has a license to print money. Go for it.”
According to Sexsmith, Mississauga plate-holders are considering following the Toronto owner’s lead in mounting a class action suit against their City.
“We’re waiting to see what happens with the end of the pilot, when it comes to Council in March,” he relates.
Gharib agrees the consultation process is, “just a show.”
“They’re delaying things to see what’s happening in Toronto. This is a delay tactic, that’s all,” he alleges.
“So, (Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director) Tracey Cook is going to give her report in 2019. And, that’s what (Mississauga Mayor) Bonnie Crombie is going to do. They extended the pilot without any report, without any discussion. The City of Mississauga is going to follow suit exactly with Toronto.”