From the get go, this has been front and centre of the entire taxi industry’s minds: the City’s review of all aspects of the business. Rob Ford promised he’d reform the system, so many drivers got behind him during the election – http://www.nowtoronto.com/daily/news/story.cfm?content=177018, and many still support him now. He’s followed through on his promise, but when push comes to shove, where will his allegiances lie? There’s a lot at stake if things don’t change, and some pretty powerful interests in play.

The current licensing system profoundly affects the livelihoods of taxi drivers. It’s fraught with inequities that often leave the driver at the bottom of the system. But what’s a “driver”? It’s more complicated than you might think.

A license to drive a cab is just that and no more. You still need a car, but the important bit is a license to operate a cab – the piece of tin that’s on the back of the cab. But there’s different kinds of tin: “Standard” plate owners, “Ambassadors” and “W” (wheelchair accessible) plates. If you’ve got any one of those, and a car, you’re in business.

The standard plates are the valuable ones. They allow more than one driver, can be transferred, and hold a street value of around 300 grand. The great thing about them is their value just keeps going up, with no upkeep. A plate owner has no responsibility for the car you may be driving in, that belongs to whoever he or she may be leasing it to. And that’s profitable. Currently, a plate owner can get between $1600 and $2000 a month to rent a standard plate. And what does the lessee, usually one of the guys driving the cab, take home from that? According to a 2008 Ryerson and U of T study, it’s a pittance: an average $3.44 an hour. And that’s after working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.

http://www.taxi-library.org/toronto_taxi_working_conditions.pdf 

So in 1998 the City of Toronto decided to reform the system and introduce a new license: the Ambassador. If you’ve taken one of these, you’ll notice that they are usually well taken care of, well appointed cabs. That’s because the guy driving it, owns it. This owner-operator system succeeded in that respect, but was unfair in many other ways: licenses couldn’t be transferred, you couldn’t have a second driver, and you couldn’t even have someone drive your cab if you were sick.

All those three inequities became blatantly clear when a driver named Kahlil Talke was stabbed in the neck on Valentine’s Day, 2011. It’s a horrible story. While in hospital and then at home recovering from his wounds, Kahlil, an Ambassador, couldn’t of course drive, nor rent his taxi to another driver. And he had a family to feed.

At the same time, a driver named Asafo Addai (http://www.jitneyhack.com/) was pursuing a case of constructive discrimination at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, pushing the City to acknowledge that most of the Ambassadors weren’t white, and that this (whether the City had intended to or not), created a system of discrimination based on the colour of their skin. Supported by the iTaxiworkers Association, (http://www.itaxiworkers.ca/), prominent lawyer Peter Rosenthal lent his considerable experience to argue the case, electric sessions we sat in on, and considered the nature of Canadian exclusionism, how politely these newcomers are pushed into the taxi business (amongst other similar jobs, requiring little leadership, prestige or accompanying income), through their lack of “Canadian experience”. This case is still pending.

So the City’s feet were to the fire, and implemented this full review of the industry. We’re in the thick of it now, halfway through the consultations, and have been sitting in on almost all of them. They’re never dry, boring discussions of policy. The people in the room have been in the industry for decades. They’re passionate and solid individuals, positioning themselves to be heard, and fighting for what they see to be a just piece of the regulatory pie.

Meanwhile, the city is full of drivers cruising, looking for fares, looking to take home something, a little something more than last night’s take.

http://www.toronto.ca/licensing/taxireview/index.htm

Alex Williams

Sajid Mughal, President of the iTaxiworkers Association