Changing the taxi licensing system to allow just over 100 plate owners to sell, trade or lease their taxi plates for wheelchair-accessible cabs would boost the plates' street value to between $100,000 and $330,000 - high prices that holders of the limited number of standard taxi licences recently fetched for their non-accessible cab plates.
Committee member Rainer Bloess, councillor for Innes ward, compared the change to giving accessible cab license holders a lottery ticket with a guaranteed win.
The accessible taxi licences, which were issued by the city in an effort to provide transportation for people with mobility challenges such as wheelchairs, were originally not meant to be sold or traded.
But opening up the rules for accessible cab licences was part of a suite of changes the city's community and protective service committee approved to the taxi bylaw, which the city uses to regulate the industry. The vote was 5-1, with only veteran Coun. Diane Holmes voting against the proposals. Council will have the final vote in April.
The city issues licences for a variety of businesses, including food carts, snow plow operators and more, but taxi licences are the only ones issued by the city that are transferable, meaning they can be resold.
There are a total of 1,001 standard plates and 173 accessible plates in service, which fits the ratio of one taxi for every 784 residents in the urban regulated area, as mandated by city council. No new plates will be issued until the need increases, and any new taxi licences would be for accessible cabs only.
Hanif Patni, president of the company that owns Blue Line, Capital and DJ's cabs - Coventry Connections - was careful to remain neutral about the windfall he could see if the cheaper accessible licences suddenly became saleable.
Patni and other industry stakeholders had been consulted on the changes, but Sue Jones, manager of the emergency services department that oversees taxi regulation, said the changes weren't of enough interest to the general public to warrant public consultation.
The lack of consultation was just one of the issues Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans bemoaned during the March 22 meeting. Deans, former chairwoman of that committee, said the proposed changes would mark a step back from the taxi reforms she oversaw during the last form of council.
"We regulate this industry for consumer protection and health and safety of the public ... and it seems the public hasn't been consulted on this," Deans said. "I can't understand why these recommendations are coming forward and on what basis."
Deans is no longer sitting on the committee and therefore doesn't have a vote until it reaches council.
Bay Coun. Mark Taylor, the chairman of the committee, said the committee only has a duty to look at the bylaw regulating the industry to ensure it's serving the needs of people who want to use taxis.
"Can they get one? Is it a fair price? That's our role," Taylor said.
Other proposed changes include an effort to encourage taxis to serve rural areas of the city by instituting a minimum $30 fare. Trips would only be made between the rural area, which doesn't have taxi regulations, and the regulated urban area - not for trips that both start and finish in a rural area.
Other changes include reductions in the number of taxi inspections and refresher courses for taxis, a requirement to display the cab number larger and more clearly,
If council also lends it support to the changes, city staff will be directed to review a number of other issues related to the taxi industry: letting cabs park in front of fire hydrants if the driver stays in the vehicle, companies that transport both a person and their vehicle, limousine licensing and prohibiting advertising of illegal taxi services.