Veteran industry advocate denounces City’s VFH Driver’s Fee for taxi owners as ‘illegal and unfair’ and refuses to pay until MLS’s Tracey Cook personally addresses his concerns
by Mike Beggs
With the City still having failed to address his many inquiries about its contentious Vehicle-For-Hire Bylaw (2016), Toronto owner/operator Gerry Manley is once again withholding his $130 VFH Driver’s Fee – a fee he says is both, “illegal and unfair.”
“I’m taking up the issue again. I’m withholding the VFH Driver’s Fee subject to (Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director) Tracey Cook doing something about it,” he tells Taxi News.
In challenging the legality of this $130 fee, he points to Chapter 546-62 of the bylaw which states that, “a taxicab owner who manages his, or her own vehicle shall be deemed to be the taxicab operator for that vehicle, and such an owner is exempt from the requirement to obtain a taxi-cab operator’s license.”
“The status quo of years gone by is still in effect, meaning my taxi-cab owner’s license still entitles me to drive my own taxi -- without the need of a VFH driver’s license,” he argues.
“There was never an explanation for this additional license, and you would think, after 45 years of being a member of Toronto’s taxi industry, I would be entitled to one.”
On March 11, 2017, Manley sent a lengthy letter to Cook outlining his and industry members’ many concerns with the new bylaw. She was “kind enough” to respond to him, while explaining that his submissions were challenging, due to his interpretation of the bylaw, in some cases requiring consultation with Toronto Legal. She explained that a Yes or No answer to his questions would not be a simple matter, and said she would be back in touch with him.
But 15 months later, he’s still waiting for her response.
Citing the delay, in a June 16 letter to Cook, Manley advised that he will be withholding his $130 license fee, “until I am shown that the interpretation of the bylaw and the conflicts I believe are contained there-in, as well as the conflicts and violations of senior statute, are addressed in a fair and equitable manner.”
“I believe as a taxi owner/driver, the bylaw exempts me from having to pay this license,” he adds.
In 2017, Manley staged a one-man, year-long boycott to draw attention to the, “unfairness, lack of common sense, and conflicts of statute” he alleges are contained in the new VFH bylaw, and to the City’s inability to enforce it. On August 10 last year, he finally paid his $130 2017 VFH Driver’s Fee, and $1,100-plus Owner’s Renewal fee, under the threat of license revocation and charges of Driving Without A License.
He’s among the many industry members who believe the City’s only real interest in taxis is as a licensing cash cow, and that the VFH Bylaw is part of its longstanding hidden agenda to deregulate the cab industry. He has sent out countless letters over the past few years about the bylaw’s “illegalities, errors, and indiscretions”, which he claims are devastating the 12,000-plus members of the Toronto taxi and limo industries, while also compromising consumer protection.
Another glaring inequity under the new bylaw, Manley notes, is the arbitrary fee schedule: “some bylaw categories do not pay any licensing fees, some pay only one licensing fee, while taxi owner/operators are required to pay TWO licensing fees.”
And since each licensing category of the VFH bylaw does the same job (driving consumers as a vehicle-for-hire and receiving compensation for that service), Manley also wonders why there’s such a disparity in the cost of annual owner license renewals?
“Could you please explain why a taxicab owner’s annual renewal for 2018 is $964.86, but a PTC vehicle owner does not pay any annual renewal fee? Or why a PTC driver’s license annual renewal fee is $15, but a VFH driver’s license renewal fee is nine times that at $130? Or why the owner of an accessible or TTL vehicle pays no licensing renewal fee?” he asks Cook.
Furthermore, with the changes made to the Federal Excise Tax Act’s definition of a taxi business to include Private Transportation Companies last July, he asserts, “It is incumbent on the City of Toronto to ensure their VFH bylaw reflects equality throughout, especially since all categories are doing the same job. To do otherwise would also violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Equality Rights.”
Manley says Mayor John Tory’s claim that the VFH bylaw represents a fair and level playing field for all is, “far from the truth”, and that many corrections need to be made to live up to that promise -- with licensing costs among the biggest issues.
He suggests Staff’s enforcing such a bylaw, “is a combination of selling your soul to the political system, and not knowing the laws, rules and regulations you are alleged to be responsible for.”
“Whoever came up with the idea of the VFH driver’s license for a taxi owner obviously did not research the existing taxi bylaw, for if they had they would have found what I did, that this not required,” he says. “They operate on the premise that no one will read the laws and challenge them, so they just do what they want with impunity.”
He maintains the VFH bylaw’s being in conflict with numerous senior statutes makes it “ultra vires” (because federal and provincial laws supersede municipal laws). He wants the City to scrap the bylaw it its entirety, and start over – with proper taxi industry input.
Emphasizing there’s “strength in numbers”, he urges his fellow owner/drivers to support his campaign.
“It’s very difficult to get something done as one individual,” he says. “With our industry unable to unify, what I uncover amounts to nothing more than a futile endeavour to enact the needed changes required in our industry, so that a true and level playing field can be achieved.”
For some time, Manley has argued that the courts are the only way for beleaguered taxi operators to get justice, “or at least to get some of the money back the City has cost them (by cavalierly granting Uber, and Private Transportation Companies unlimited access to the Toronto taxi market).”
While no longer driving, Lucky 7 Taxi owner Lawrence Eisenberg supports Manley’s arguments 100 percent.
“We pay the highest licensing fees in North America, and what do we get for our fees? Nothing,” he says.
He, likewise, calls on other owner/operators to support Manley’s boycott.
“One person can’t get away with it, but maybe if you have a whole group,” he observes. “But that’s the taxi industry, it’s so fragmented you can’t do anything.
“I wouldn’t give (the VFH Driver’s Fee) to them. Uber doesn’t pay it, why should the taxi industry? That’s a good reason to go to court.”
However he suggests, as a starting point, Manley should take this issue to Small Claims Court -- for under $5,000.
“Make a point in court. Start something, and maybe somebody else will jump on the bandwagon, too,” he says. “You’ve got to do something, before they do it to you. Once it gets to court, they can’t suspend him.
“It’s easy to get to Small Claims Court, real quick.”
Manley is calling for an immediate response from Toronto Licensing, “to ensure the current license and applicable fees I’m required to pay are addressed, especially since they are due in August of 2018.”
“A further 15-month delay in responding is not an option, nor is it an acceptable time frame,” he adds.