Tory’s Mental Health Hypocrisy

When more than 1000 cab drivers don yellow t-shirts and visit City Hall to tell politicians that it’s a bad idea to devastate an entire industry and the 15,000 men who make their living in it, you’d think the Mayor might notice….but instead, he’s listening to bureaucrats about mental health at Hart House on April 9th. I hope he learns something, anything; like, bankruptcy is bad for your mental health.

On Tuesday April 9th, Mayor John Tory hosted the Mental Health and Cities Summit to discuss the importance of mental health in an urban setting.

The blatant hypocrisy of John Tory speaking on the importance of urban mental health mere months after he brazenly threw 15,000 Toronto taxi drivers and their families under the bus financially, professionally, and emotionally is beyond appalling. His support for Uber’s business model – irresponsible to the point of being criminal – has destroyed the lives of thousands of hard-working drivers and put consumer safety at risk.

As my mother used to say, “I’d hate to have his nerve in a tooth.”

Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance told National Public Radio in February: “I’ve been organizing taxi drivers since 1996, and I’ve never seen the level of desperation. I’ve started to receive so many calls from drivers seeking resources for suicide prevention and talking about homelessness and eviction notices…this is not accidental.”

New York City livery driver Douglas Schifter’s February 5th suicide in front of City Hall (he blew his brains out with a shotgun) was only one of three taxi driver suicides which took place in that city in three short months. Another, 57 year old Danilo Castillo, jumped off the roof of a building after calling his wife to detail for her his financial devastation.

Why does this matter to Torontonians? Because thousands of our taxi drivers are in exactly the same position: indebted to banks, committed to thousands of dollars in commercial insurance payments, bound by an incredible number of city by-laws. They are now competing with approximately 50,000 ride share drivers who are not required to follow these rules.

Toronto drivers may be a year or so behind the curve of the New York drivers, but their day of financial reckoning is coming, and they know it.

Law-abiding taxi owners who believed the  City of Toronto when it encouraged them to invest in a taxi plate, a safe car, training, mechanical inspections, security cameras and more are now scrambling to make payments and to support their families. Many simply cannot.

Toronto’s review of By-law 546, which invented an entire new set of dumbed-down rules for Uber and Lyft, was scheduled to be presented to Council in July 2017. Incredibly, Staff have simply and arbitrarily decided not to report until 2019. Apparently, direction from Council doesn’t mean anything anymore, and why should it? Municipal Licensing and Standards staff will continue to pick up a steady pay cheque for the next two years. Taxi drivers? Not so much.

One driver I met had his own apartment in spring of 2014. By summer, he was sleeping on a friend’s couch. By fall, he was homeless. Probably this has had an effect on his “urban mental health.” Hopefully, John Tory’s conference will help him.

Latif Gowher represents the 751 drivers who each invested roughly $80,000 putting an Accessible van on the road. “I won’t replace my van when it ages out, and a lot of other drivers won’t, either. The City wants cab owners to subsidize Accessible service; this has been a total failure.”

At a recent industry meeting, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam fretted to Taxi News “There should be a way to change things…I don’t want to see these 751 drivers homeless.”

That’s a nice thought. Perhaps asking John Tory to demand MLS staff deliver their report less than two years late could be a start.