This article ran originally ran in the Toronto Sun July, 2017
Toronto still stings from the infamous 2010 “à la Cart” experiment, in which bureaucrats planned to bring 15 healthy ethnic food options to Nathan Phillips Square.
Staff with no restaurant experience brainstormed to develop a standardized cart and a list of foods which could be sold. Vendors were required to pay for permits, purchase $30,000 carts and have menu changes approved by Public Health. Several vendors were financially ruined and at least one declared bankruptcy.
Now, Toronto is financially devastating a group of people which is 45 times larger and has invested over $40,000,000 serving a much more important market: vulnerable customers who need Accessible taxis.
As Council’s need to meddle in business knows no bounds, it decreed in 2014 that henceforth, 100 per cent of new taxis would need to be accessible. This decision was not based on any research or needs analysis; it was purely a virtue-signalling exercise. The industry had already met the goal of making six per cent of cabs accessible, despite the fact that Accessible calls account for less than 1 per cent of requests received.
In 2014, Council voted to release 500 additional Toronto Taxi Licenses (TTL) plates. Purchasers were aware that they could ONLY put these plates on Accessible vans, which are customized with wheelchair ramps, cost almost double the price of a sedan taxi and guzzle a lot more gas.
Operators stepped up in good faith to purchase the licenses and the vans. People who need Accessible taxis often need lots of help in and out of buildings, cars, and appointments. This segment of the market is not as simple or lucrative as business or bar calls, but enthusiastic entrepreneurs, largely immigrants, stepped up to deliver services Toronto does not want to pay for itself.
Amazingly, 551 men were OK with this proposition. We should thank them.
Instead, in 2016, Toronto pulled the rug out from underneath them when it adopted Chapter 546, the new Vehicle for Hire by-law. Two years after it insisted upon 100 per cent Accessible taxis, Toronto decided it didn’t need ANY REQUIREMENT AT ALL for Accessible taxis. It cancelled the TTL program, and instead brought in a two-tiered system allowing Uber use its own fare structure without offering Accessible service.
Overnight, all the men who bought TTLs were stranded, competing with 30,000 additional vehicles which were not required to buy $65,000 vans.
They have been devastated, financially and emotionally.
Latif Gowher, who heads up a group of TTL owners asking the City to convert their TTLs to Standard plates, calculates that under the new Chapter 546 market reality, there is no way an owner can pay off the van in the seven years it is allowed to be on the road.
“We signed up when there was one law for taxis. Now there are two laws, and Uber is not required to comply,” he notes. “This is not what we signed up for.”
Several of those who purchased the plates have returned them to the City, or sold their vans and plates at a loss.
This is a serious problem for Accessible taxi owners, but even more so for the clientele that need them.
Instead of making continued progress toward meeting the 10-minute equitable service goal set by Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, Toronto is likely to move in the opposite direction as taxi operators have realized bureaucrats and politicians are nonchalantly using them as a political football.
Risky business, indeed.