“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Tracey Cook, the city’s executive director of municipal licencing and standards.
The “shift drivers” at Wednesday’s meeting are the majority of taxi drivers in Toronto. The drivers are licensed to drive a taxi, but the taxicabs also licensed and these drivers must lease a licensed taxi or rent shifts in one. Taxicab licenses are bought and sold, and currently go for about $300,000. They are largely in support of the city’s proposed reforms.
“The drivers have taken it upon themselves to get themselves together, to do petitions,” said Cook.
Cook led the drivers through the proposed reforms, as they cheered and waved their arms for what they approved of. They jeered and gave the thumbs down for things they disapproved of — every mention of the “briefcase agents,” the industry’s current middlemen who, as Cook said to loud jeers, “take a plate from the owner and shop it around to whoever makes them most money on a lease.”
The drivers also submitted written input and some got a turn at the microphone. They made their views clear: they resent the other players in the industry — the agents, brokerages, fleet garages and plate owners — who they feel overcharge them at every turn on lease and rental rates, dispatch systems, debit and credit machine charges and insurance.
The taxi reforms, if approved by city council in the new year, would reshape the industry over decades, as current plate owners sell their plates or pass away. The new Toronto Taxi Licence holders would have to drive the taxi, and couldn’t just lease it out as most do now, but could take on up to three other drivers to fill shifts. The taxis would also have to be wheelchair accessible.
The taxi brokerages, fleet garages and many taxi plate owners have organized the Toronto Taxicab Alliance and launched a campaign in opposition to the reforms that includes advertising and professional public relations and lobbying support.
The counter point to reforms
Tracey Cook, the city’s executive director of municipal licencing and standards has met with the Toronto Taxicab Alliance, as well.
She said the brokerages and fleet garages will change under the new regime, but survive. “The taxi industry’s a Rubik’s cube, you move one thing and it impacts everyone else,” she said.
Gail Souter, president of Beck Taxi, said the reforms will put the industry into disarray and harm the good service it currently provides.
She argues that if all taxi owners drive their own cabs they won’t provide service at times and places that are inconvenient for them, leaving the public in the lurch, adding that new plate owner-drivers likely wouldn’t take on secondary drivers, because the insurance will be prohibitively expensive.
Despite the campaign to stop them, Souter said the reforms are likely to be approved.
“We have city councillors who, apart from being a little diverted in their attentions these days, are indifferent to our industry. Whatever this report is written up as, it’ll happen,” she said.