Councillor McMahon’s Callous Property Grab by Peter McSherry

June 11, 2014

I think anybody who has ever worked hard to earn anything ought to be concerned about the tale I am about to tell. Private property is a bedrock value of our society – and it should always be. I do not accept that our elected representatives have the right to change this fundamental principle as it applies to taxi drivers or any other hardworking group that doesn’t fit into their social set. I think this value should be there for everybody who is willing to work hard – and even for those who are not.

I think anybody who owns anything ought to watch out for the kind of politicians who would even consider trying what I am about to describe. Because they might be next. I remember the day in July 1971, when I was first issued a license to drive a cab. I was one of a group of about 20 beginners who were required to write a test that proved knowledge of the taxicab by-law and the locations of a few dozen often-asked-for places of note.

Then there were two oral ‘how-to-get-from-here-to-there’ questions, both of which I still remember. Then my classmates and I were shown how the taxi meter worked. And after that, a paid employee of the City of Toronto gave us what I knew even then was a set speech. After telling us that a working day in the taxi business was 12 hours, the City’s own man spoke nearly as follows:

The taxi business is a great business. You can be in it part-time, full-time, or you can make it your career. If you choose to make it your career, after three years of working full time – five days-a-week – if you have a good record, you can put your name on “The List” (known as The Approved Drivers List) for your own plate. It will be many years, but, if you maintain your good record, your turn will come and you will be issued your own (taxicab) plate.

You will be on probation for another five years, then, if you still have a good record, the plate will be yours. You can use it to operate your own business. When you retire, you can sell the plate and live on the money in your retirement.

To us rookies, as to the industry in general, that presentation by a paid City employee was very definitely an offer of private property in return for a driver’s structuring their working life around earning – at high cost in terms of work, time and money – a taxi plate for themself.

Who would purchase such a plate as suggested in the City’s presentation, as many did over 50 years (after 1964), if it was not so? When the career driver got “their issue,” they were handed a tin plate with the word “Owner” on it and a number underneath, to affix to their own taxicab. As well, the City charged a fee of thousands of dollars on issuance, the same again on any transfer of the plate to anyone else, and a fee of hundreds of dollars on annual renewal. Such plates are still on the backs of 3,480 City of Toronto Standard equity-plate taxis to this day.

Beginning drivers heard that same speech at The Office in the mid-1960s and as late as 1993 – by which time thinking at City Hall concerning the ownership of taxicab plates had begun to change. In the interim, many plate holders had adopted the practice of renting out their plates, which the City had not thought to do. Meanwhile, too, the City had fallen badly into debt.

On February 19 and 20 past, Toronto City Council voted to drastically remake its taxi industry by passing a set of “reforms” that, among other changes, are meant to put an end the Standard equity taxi plate by June 30, 2024. Like the one-driver Ambassador permissions to operate, the Standard plates are to be “migrated” into Toronto Taxi Licenses (TTLs), a new form of license that requires the taxi to be a wheelchair-capable accessible cab and the plate owner to be one of the taxi’s drivers. Obviously TTLs will be of dubious value, not only because of these conditions, but also because the City will have clearly welched on its previous form of taxi plate.

This key change takes earned security away from now mostly elderly taxi drivers who will be left with almost nothing, or from their widows and heirs, or from others who have bought such plates at six-figure values. Many of the 50 “reforms” – “the Wrecks” we call them – that passed City Council on Febraury 19 and 20 will greatly up the present taxi drivers’ costs of operation while at the same time greatly cutting into their incoming revenues. In only a few years, these changes will disemploy some 7- or 8,000 shift taxi drivers, lessees and self-employed drivers – and they are meant to do just that.

Their losses are only collateral damage as the City’s real targets are its perceived competitors for monies the drivers earn – the equity plate holders, the taxi fleets, and the business agents who look after the interests of plateholders who can’t or won’t do the same.

The indebted City created the licenses and, for all of that, and for enforcing its own rules, now wants to be the renter of the plates itself. The capital to run the businesses and the “social benefits” the City has lately promised its new-order drivers are to be supplied by its plate-operating “quasi employees.”

“I think we’re going to see an improved industry. It’s the right thing to do, and long overdue,” said Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who moved the motion to pass the “reforms” in Council. McMahon afterwards admitted to having done “some hard lobbying and schmoozing” to get other Councillors to support her motion – which passed City Council by a vote of 31-12.

Readers should understand that this action – which, if it becomes a by-law – will turn into a very expensive mess. The Councillors understanding of the taxi industry is so inept that it is almost comical. This is going to be very costly, not only for the taxi industry and its drivers, but for the taxi-taking public and the ratepayers.

Peter McSherry is a taxi driver of 42 years experience. He writes The Bystander, a column about taxi issues in John Duffy’s Taxinews and is the author of three published books, including Mean Streets: Confessions of a Nighttime Taxi Driver. He owns nothing in the taxi business, nor did he ever want to own anything.


One Response to “Councillor McMahon’s Callous Property Grab by Peter McSherry”

  1. Stand your Ground Says:

    Private citizens will end up paying for the large salaries of public sector workers and their cronies.

    The 100k+ income earners in Ontario are mainly taxpayer funded police, teachers, bureaucrats and politicians in Ottawa.

    Entrepreneurs and business entities suffer in Ontario because of the excess regulations, fees and energy costs in the province.

    Unfortunately the public sector unions have placed the corrupt Liberals in power, so see more incidences of corruption, fraud and pillage by the corrupt unionized cronies.

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