WireService.ca Press Release - The Township of Markham was the first to give up on the policy of non-transferable taxi licences. They modeled a new type of licence after the Toronto Ambassador taxicab licence, but overturned it a few years ago.
Toronto City Council will be making a decision on the fate of non-transferable licences in December, when City staff presents Council with the final report of the 2012 Taxicab Industry Review. That report, without a doubt, will state the gross discontentment felt among Ambassador taxicab operators and indeed the whole industry.
Councillor Mark Taylor, who is the head of the taxi committee in Ottawa, with the full support of Mayor Jim Watson, ordered a taxi industry review. The findings from the review include: permitting the 108 non-transferable accessible licences to be traded, sold, or transferred; allowing an extra year on the mandated age of an Ottawa taxicab; reducing the inspections of taxis to once a year and making it a law for accessible taxi operators to transport people to and from rural Ottawa. These proposed reforms are expected to take effect in five years from now. Most of the Councillors who opposed the reforms were the ones responsible for the policy to begin with.
Toronto is also reviewing the taxi industry and we do have some commonalities with Ottawa. Both cities went through amalgamation; both cities introduced non transferable taxicab licences as part of the overall policy of alignment of services; both cities have a mayor who is interested in bringing fairness to the taxi market; both cities have determined and fair-minded Councillors at the helm of their respective taxi committees.
Toronto's Councillor Cesar Palacio is the Chair of the Licensing and Standards Committee. On September 9, 2011 Councillor Palacio ordered city staff to begin preparation for the most comprehensive taxi industry review in recent memory. The result is the 2012 Taxicab Industry Review. It would be remiss of me if Toronto's Mayor Ford's involvement in the current taxi review is not acknowledged. He campaigned, among other things, to correct the inequalities of the Toronto taxi system and he has delivered on his promise.
How did we we get here? On April 16, 1998 Toronto City Council established a 'Task Force to Review the Taxi Industry'. The reason for the task force was to address the growing concerns from both riders and taxi operators regarding the deteriorating working conditions for the drivers and a decline in customer service.
The objectives of the task force were to provide safe and secure service to the public, offer high quality customer service in clean, comfortable taxis, employ courteous, knowledgeable and experienced drivers and permit people who work in the system to share fairly in the costs and benefits.
On October 7, 1998 a report on the taxicab industry review was released. It was comprised of 50 reform recommendations, which included the Ambassador/'W' licence policies. This was amended on October 27, 1998 and adopted by the Task Force. Staff was requested to prepare a supplementary report for consideration by the Emergency and Protective Services Committee who also adopted it and staff was asked to provide additional information to Council. This additional information was presented to City Council at their November 25, 26,1998 meetings.
The Toronto Ambassador experiment was hailed by some as the 'be all to end all' of whatever ailed the taxi business. Many places, including Vancouver and Regina, are now playing with the idea of non- transferable taxi plates. The truth is, the Toronto experiment failed a long time ago and it failed because the idea created an unfair advantage for some, while others were grossly disadvantaged. The Township of Markham, which adopted the Toronto experiment, relinquished it quietly a few years ago and now the City of Ottawa is following suit.
Mayor Jim Watson called his decision to vote in favour of allowing the non-transferable accessible licences to be traded, sold, or transferred, as 'basic fairness'. I think it is important that Toronto adopts the same attitude towards bringing fairness to our industry. The most important reason why the Toronto Ambassador taxicab licence should be abolished however, is the fact that it does not make business sense. It is a business proposition which does not allow the practitioners to accumulate wealth. It is a business plan which depends entirely upon the health of the operator. If your health goes, so does your business. Toronto has nearly 1500 of these non-transferable licences and it is not fair to those businesses.
So how do we solve this mess in Toronto? Unlike Ottawa, we have 1500 non-transferable plates. In other words, there are 1500 taxi businesses in our city which cannot be sold, transferred or traded. All the efforts these businessmen do to improve their business comes to naught. The authors of this program obviously did not think it through and this is why we find ourselves at this point.
There are some who think the solution to the Ambassador problem lies in stripping Ambassador operators from their businesses. This perhaps explains why the question of the appropriateness of the number of taxi licences in Toronto keeps coming up regularly during the current taxi review. I think the more appropriate question to ask would be if the taxi industry is experiencing a reduction in the demand for our services. The answer to that question is 'yes' and it reflects the true state of the world economy.
It would be unimaginative if the innovative solution that comes out of the 2012 Taxicab Industry Review is to take away taxi businesses from their owners. This is not an acceptable solution. The time has come for our business to dig deep and find ways to attract more riders. The reason people do not use taxis as much has nothing to do with the number of legal taxis in Toronto. I hope consultation #15, which has no agenda at the moment, would be dedicated to the topic of “how to make taxi services attractive to generate more business”.
It is time for politicians to stop worrying about what a taxi business is worth. The time has come to make sure that taxi licence owners do their jobs properly by providing good service to their customers. After all, most people do not concern themselves with what others sell their businesses for. The same courtesy should be accorded to taxi operators. I truly believe that once that impediment is removed, it will become much easier for our City Council to realize that the Ambassador philosophy cannot be allowed to continue in its present form.
Ambassadors would love to operate successful business enterprises, but the restrictions imposed upon their licences prevents them from accomplishing these goals. I hope that the taxi review will correct the industry and make it fair for all the players.