Toronto taxis: Council supports a vomit fee?
Lucas Oleniuk / Toronto Star Order this photo
Helena Griner chooses not to use wheelchair-accessible cabs because they cost too much and she can manage without a lift. A city report to be considered by council Wednesday recommends all new taxi licences require a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.
They say you can’t fight city hall, but the taxi industry shows maybe you can.
“The Toronto cab industry may have dodged a bullet,” an article in the Taxi News declared in its February edition. “Congratulations, everyone. Keep up the pressure.”
On Wednesday, city council will consider the Taxicab Industry final report. It contains 40 recommendations, many relating to licensing and accessibility.
Thanks to taxi industry lobbying, controversial key proposals, including shaking up the licensing system, have been sent back for more study.
“A balanced approach to regulating taxicabs ensures a safe, equitable and healthy industry that meets the needs of Toronto’s residents and visitors,” reads the report’s summary.
That may sound straightforward. It’s not. Just ask Tracey Cook who took over as executive director of the city’s municipal licensing and standards division in January 2012 knowing nothing about the scale, scope or complexity of Toronto’s taxi industry. She quickly learned “the dynamic and vested interests and the history and peoples’ different perspective,” Cook said last month a day after the 12-hour marathon of taxi drivers at city hall.
“They’re all going to speak from their context, from where they are in the industry, that’s what makes it very dynamic and difficult.”
Cook and members of the city’s licensing and standards committee heard more than 200 taxi industry representatives voice their opposition to or support for key proposals in the report. The most contentious recommendations call for the end of the current tiered licensing system in favour of a new owner-operated plate and the requirement that all Toronto taxis be wheelchair accessible by 2025.
There are 4,849 taxis operating in Toronto that make 65,000 trips daily. Currently 3,500 taxi drivers, one-third of the 10,367 in Toronto, pay $2,000 a month to rent a licence. One corporation that owns 120 plates receives $6 million annually.
Among the recommendations that will go to council:
A $25 “vomit fee” on passengers who throw up in a cab.
Drivers can request payment in advance.
Study using fire hydrants as cabstands in the downtown core.
Issue up to 290 new accessible cab licences.
Encourage the use of more alternative fuel and/or hybrid vehicles.
At the outset of the meeting, committee chair Cesar Palacio read a letter from Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. Kelly’s advice? Send key proposals back for further study as “large questions” remained unanswered. There was no explanation why or how that came about.
Echoing through the parade of deputations were two themes: “The system is broken,” and “Why fix what isn’t broken?” Many speakers warned of dire consequences for the industry if all taxis are forced to become wheelchair accessible.
Councillor Frank Di Giorgio was sympathetic.
“In a building, we don’t make every single washroom on that floor accessible for disabled people. So we need to be very careful with respect to identifying need and trying to accommodate the need, versus trying (to make) all washrooms accessible.”
Ryerson graduate student Patricia Kierans, one of the few non-taxi-industry deputants, told the meeting it is wrong to think demand is not there.
“People that need this service know that there’s no cab available,” she told the meeting after waiting all day to be heard. “In Ontario, 15.5 per cent of the population self-reports as disabled. And 432,000 Torontonians identify as disabled, yet 1 per cent of all calls are for wheelchair cabs because they know no one can meet their needs. Provide the vehicles and you will gain loyal, dedicated customers.”
Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said Toronto cabs have come a long way since passengers routinely found “dirty newspapers” and “tuna fish salad.” But changes are needed.
“To think that you can work for 25 years in an industry and have an asset that you can pass on to your son, and your son’s son, and your son’s son’s sons, and your son’s, son’s, son’s, son’s son, so that in a 150 years from now you’re still getting money from that plate, folks, it’s over,” he said to applause and cheers from the fix-it section.
Ultimately, a majority on the committee accepted the deputy mayor’s advice and voted to defer the key proposals, including shaking up the licensing system.
“They’re proceeding judiciously,” Cook said of the committee’s decision.
That doesn’t means she agrees. “I thought we had done exhaustive consultation through this process and I don’t feel additional consultation is necessary on the big bucket items of accessibility and the licensing structure.”
By: Betsy Powell City Hall Bureau, Published on Tue Feb 18 2014