Town of Oakville muscles in on local taxi business
by Mike Beggs
The Town of Oakville has just introduced a new “Home To Hub” bus service, which veteran taxi owner/operator Al Prior sees as, “the biggest threat we have faced yet.”
Being carried out in smaller transit buses, this shared service is being offered Monday to Friday from 6 to 10 a.m. and from 3 to 7 p.m., in the newer areas of North Oakville, and in Southeast Oakville. For the price of a regular bus fare, this service offers driveway pickups/drop-offs to and from such hubs as the Uptown Core Terminal, the Oakville Go Station, and downtown Oakville, provided it is booked at least 24 hours in advance.
Prior feels such work should be reserved for taxi operators paying costly regulatory fees. And he wonders, “Who’s going to police all this?”
“In the suburbs this is where (our) business comes from, people needing to get to the Go Trains,” he complains.
“The Oakville, and Bronte Go Train Stations are the main hubs for transit. These hubs will now provide to and from service from your driveway. I am not aware of any consultation by the Oakville Council with the taxi industry stakeholders. This will practically eliminate the taxi stands in both places.”
And while riders will only pay a bus fare, he says, “the true cost of this additional service (which he estimates at $60 to $70 an hour) is being borne by taxpayers.” And he notes this is taking work away from taxi drivers, and being handled by unionized bus drivers (at $25 an hour, with a pension plan and benefits).
“This should be cab business,” agrees Mark Sexsmith, manager of All-Star Taxi, in Mississauga. “We can operate that much more cheaply than they can.”
Another long-time Oakville owner/operator James Bolan was unaware of the new service, when contacted.
“It certainly hinders us, doesn’t it,” he chuckles wryly.
He cites the City’s long-standing disregard for taxi interests, dating back several years to the flooding of the streets with plates at Mayor Rob Burton’s initiation.
Prior suggests Home To Hub is akin to the Township of Innisfil’s new partnership with Uber to provide public transit. Taxi industry leaders fear this groundbreaking arrangement could spread to other cities, and towns across the GTA.
In early April, Innisfil Council approved a motion to bring this subsidized, on-demand transit service to its 36,000 residents via Uber, as an alternative to starting up a traditional bus-based system. A 2015 transit feasibility study had determined it would cost $270,000 per year to run a startup bus service along one short fixed route, north to Barrie. Staff argued that contracting out runs to Uber would be a more cost effective way to go, suggesting, “there’s real opportunity out there to match people up.”
Mayor Gord Wauchope questioned the wisdom of taxpayers subsidizing a bus run that many of them would never use.
Prior fears the Innisfil model will indeed catch on in other communities.
“We’re paying licensing fees, and these politicians they’re just ignoring there’s such a thing as taxis, and ruining our business model,” he told Taxi News in May.
Further to the point, he suggests that, “as time goes on, the public will become more unaware of what a taxi service is”, and that, “the Ontario Government, at two levels seemingly, is engaging in a policy of Obscurantism.”
“Has Obscurantism been used all along, since the illegal introduction of ride-sharing? Each time the reintroduction of this policy has occurred (and there have been many instances), it has struck against the very business interests of the taxi industry,” he alleges. “Has the Mayor of Toronto, John Tory, who led this policy, misled the taxi industry into submission? It is an unfair policy with the intent to damage our industry, and an attack on our human rights.
“What is even more galling is that exorbitant taxi fees are being used to finance the departmental municipal costs of all this. I propose that legal action with punitive compensation should be considered by our taxi industry, based on the possibility that the policy of Obscurantism has occurred.”
Bolan agrees, “I think there are grounds. Definitely, we can prove the government is being deliberately vague,” he alleges. “They can’t do that. They have a responsibility to discuss things with stakeholders.
“(Plus), they put the bylaw in for Uber, and I don’t see them enforcing it. That’s what really burns me. Uber cars are supposed to be marked. Maybe a small percentage have the marking -- they’re just operating on the fly.”
Sexsmith agrees the taxi industry simply doesn’t seem to be regarded as an essential link in the transportation system.
“It’s heading down that road of not communicating with people in the transportation industry. They just keep making mistakes,” he alleges. The politicians’ knowledge is five miles wide and one inch deep when it comes to transportation in the GTA.
“They see Uber as an essential part. And all Uber is is just another taxi service. I think what they’re doing is just ignoring the current bunch of people, and if it’s new, it’s better. Once again, they don’t know much about our business.”
He points to news reports of a projected shortage of school bus drivers around Toronto and the GTA, for the coming school year.
“Is it any surprise that after John Tory and his Council deregulated the taxi industry, allowing Uber and any other ride-hailing company to operate in the city, and allows anyone with a clean driver’s license and Criminal Record Search to get a license to operate a For Hire vehicle, there is a shortage of school bus drivers?” he asks. “Why go spend a couple of weeks taking a professional driver’s training course, when you can walk into Uber and be on the road by noon?
“(But now) we’re getting guys coming in applying to drive, who don’t know where Credit Valley Hospital is.”