Giving a fair ride to workers in the taxi industry has been a bit of a long haul for Toronto City Council so it was to be expected that interested parties would have strong reactions to the new regulations coming out of a two-year consultation that included all stakeholders as well as those who use the service.
City Council voted overwhelmingly to phase out the two-tier licensing system brought in 14 years ago in favour of a new standardized Toronto Taxicab Licence (TTL). It received thumbs-up from those currently carrying the more recently instituted single-holder ambassador licence which could not be re-sold, while the holders of the old standard license are unhappy to be losing all the advantages that came with it.
Additionally, the city expects that instead of the current 85, in the future all cabs will be wheelchair accessible.
The 10-year phase-in means there will eventually be only one licence per taxi owner-operator, but it will allow multiple use of the licence to a maximum of three other ‘renters’ and must include a minimum number of hours per workweek by the owner before allowing shared use.
This is a far cry from the old licensing system when, for far too long, a few folks owned multiple, even scores of taxi licences and used them as property – in fact, they were more expensive than property at one time – and handed them down to their heirs as legacy. These heirs didn’t drive taxis, instead, they were like the plantation owners who hired on the sharecroppers to slave in the fields (on the roads) for next to nothing, while they sat back and reaped the rewards.
When they were ready, they sold these licences, often obtained for a pittance, for huge sums to rich folks who just took up where they left off. And despite the efforts of the city to begin to mitigate the licensing structure by bringing in the non-transferable owner-driver ambassador licence in 1998, 75 per cent of the nearly 5000 taxis in Toronto are still under the old standard licence system, under which a licence can be sold for up to $350,000. There are folks out there or their descendants who own multiple licences worth millions of dollars on one end of the equation while, at the other end, shift drivers are putting in workdays of between 12 to 14 hours (or more) to hand over far too much in rental fees and other charges to brokers and other middlemen, leaving their net earnings at little more than poverty wages. Typical annual earnings of a shift driver could be less than a tenth of the value of a single licence.
This issue is of special importance in the racialized immigrant population because so many find employment as cabdrivers in this city. It is common knowledge that Toronto has some of the best-educated immigrants working as cabdrivers, people who could not find entry into their field of expertise, despite being allowed into Canada for their qualifications.
It is well past time that the playing field is leveled so that the folks working the land reap the rewards. It is interesting to note that licence owners must also drive their cabs. That should avoid the old messy serf-like system.
We will be interested to see how the city plans to ensure fairness for those currently on the Drivers’ Waiting List. Ottawa, for instance, uses a lottery system.
Still waiting for resolution is the vexing issue of Toronto cabbies not being able to pick up airport fares while airport taxis can take on Toronto fares, a matter that council will have to take to the provincial level.
One recommendation coming out of the consultation and directly affecting passengers that got council’s okay is a $25 “throw-up charge” or “vomit fee” which would see passengers pay a penalty fee if they soil a taxi. But passengers lost out on the recommendation to lower the boarding fee by one dollar from $4.25, which is a pity because outside of Ottawa, Toronto’s cab rates are among the highest in North America.
With this vote, City Council gave strong support to these changes on behalf of cabbies who most need them. Not surprisingly, beneficiaries of the old system have signaled that they will fight the changes. We hope council stands firm. We also hope labour rights organizations will show support for the working cabbies.