Toronto gives pandemic relief to struggling taxi drivers

Beck Taxi's operations manager calls the measures "a good first step" for drivers who've largely remained parked during COVID


Toronto is relieving some financial stress on taxi drivers during the pandemic.

Earlier this week, City Council voted to temporarily reduce renewal and regulatory fees and reinstate licenses for cabs that missed payment deadlines.

“We needed to see some support,” says Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard, who notes the city is providing relief on fees that ride share drivers do not have to pay. “Then we need to see the renewal fees, on par with other operating businesses.”

The decision follows a motion championed by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and adopted in December to support taxis during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing relief on licenses that cost $1,129.16 a year plus $195.26 vehicle-for-hire licenses and more.

“Toronto’s Taxicab industry has been experiencing economic hardship for over a decade, which has only been accelerated and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wong-Tam said in a statement on February 20.

A report filed to the city in October states that approximately 75 to 90 per cent of all taxis and limousines were parked due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The drivers still on the road were absorbing a 95 per cent loss in business.

On Saturday, the city announced $2.47 million in support for taxis as part of the 2021 budget approval process. That funding includes:

  • temporary 50 per cent reduction in renewal fees, and a credit for any renewal fees that were paid in 2021;
  • a temporary 75 per cent reduction in regulatory charges for the Vehicle-for-hire accessibility fund program;
  • the reinstatement of any licences cancelled from 2020 due to non-payment of renewal fees, with an extended deadline to the end of 2021;
  • and a suspension of vehicle-for-hire license cancellations due to nonpayment of renewal fees in 2021.

“It’s a good first step,” says Hubbard. She’s wants to see the city sustain the support even beyond the pandemic, pointing out that COVID-19 only exacerbated long-standing issues affecting the taxi industry that the city “has held at arm’s length.”

Hubbard added Toronto is reinstating cancelled licenses that shouldn’t have been taken away from drivers in the first place during a pandemic. Several drivers were in the dark on whether they should pay during the pandemic.

Renewals for civilian license stickers and even drivers licenses were not being enforced. The issue regarding renewal fees for the Toronto taxi industry has been debated since July. And the Municipal Licenses and Standards Office was closed since March, cutting off avenues for communication.

She offers examples such as driver Jahan Afzal, who purchased his taxi plates on the open market in 2012 for $300,000, just as Uber was launching in the city without permits. The city cancelled the license he purchased for $300,000 because he didn’t pay his renewal fee on time, with no buy back, suspension or dormancy options.

They also cancelled two licenses owned by driver Abshir Mohamed, who forgot change his residential address and didn’t receive a notice to pay his renewal.

According to Hubbard, Mohamed was paying his 24-hour-commercial insurance fees and updating his safety certificates to carry passengers during a pandemic, but the city nevertheless cancelled his license without any effort to reach out during a pandemic.

“They called him when it was too late,” says Hubbard. “They were like, ‘surrender your licenses, we’re coming to get them.’”

Hubbard points out the inconsistency between that behaviour and the city’s messaging regarding supporting small businesses and calling for the suspension of evictions.

The license cancellations are another form of eviction, she argues.

“This is how vulnerable people are treated in our industry regularly,” she adds, pointing out how taxi driver consistently face penalties for fees and bylaws that ride share drivers don’t need to deal with.

“Hand over your plate. But you can take that car you have now and become an Uber or Lyft driver if you want.”

@justsayrad

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