Beck Taxi calls on city to stop collecting cab licensing fees
Dario Balca, CTV Toronto
Published Thursday, November 19, 2015 2:00PM EST
Beck Taxi is calling on the City of Toronto to stop collecting licensing fees while city officials draw up new regulations that will even the playing field between traditional cab companies and ride-sharing services such as Uber.
The request comes after Uber Canada refused to suspend service in Toronto while officials come up with a new licensing system that would cover both taxi drivers and Uber operators.
“Licensed taxi drivers are expected to sit idly by as the city continues to allow black-market taxis to operate in our city and break our laws,” Kristine Hubbard, Operations Manager at Beck Taxi said in a statement issued Thursday. “Meanwhile, licensed drivers are expected to pay up and abide by Toronto’s bylaws, or face being fined and losing their permits even though taxi drivers and UberX drivers are providing the same service.”
UberX, Uber Canada's most popular service, has been operating in Toronto for a year. The service connects app users with people who have signed up to be drivers using their own vehicles.
The service has been able to get around the city's laws, claiming that UberX is a communication service, not a cab company. So far, drivers working for UberX don't have to purchase taxi licences or complete the required taxi-training program, allowing Uber to charge significantly less per ride than a traditional cab.
As a result, some cab drivers say they have seen up a 70 per cent reduction in business over the last year, with many of them on the verge of no longer being able to operate.
The city’s Municipal Licensing Committee is in the process of coming up with a “regulatory framework” for all ground transportation in the city, including Uber.
The new framework will ensure Uber will be required to apply as a taxi brokerage and pay annual fee. That means Uber will only be allowed to connect users with licensed cabs.
A report on the new framework is expected to come before council in the spring.
In the meantime, Beck has called on the city to either start enforcing the bylaw against unlicensed taxi services or to place a moratorium on taxi licensing fees out of fairness for Toronto’s 10,000 licensed cab drivers.
“There is an inequity,” Hubbard said. “Some people are law-abiding citizens who are following all of the city’s rules and then you have another group of people doing the very same job following no rules at all, paying nothing at all.”
Licensing fees, Beck argues, are in place to regulate the taxi industry and to cover the cost of bylaw enforcement.
“If the city won’t use the fees drivers pay for enforcement and regulatory equality as currently prescribed, then we’re asking them to begin leveling the playing field by easing expenses along with certain regulations for Toronto’s law-abiding drivers,” Hubbard said.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he is “willing to take a look” at Beck’s request.
“We always had it part of our review that we’d be looking at the fees that are charged to the cab industry and seeing if those are placing an undue burden on taxis as they face different and increased competition,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Taxi drivers currently pay $347 per year in licensing fees to the city—totalling about $3.5 million.
In September, Toronto taxi companies and the city agreed to reduce the base fare of cab rides from $4.25 to $3.25 to make traditional cabs more competitive with Uber.
“Toronto should have a competitive taxicab industry that serves both the public and drivers well. That’s why I supported council’s decision to reduce the minimum fare paid by the public by $1,” Mayor John Tory said in a statement. “This will make moving around the city more affordable for the public, and it will help the traditional taxicab industry compete.”
But some cab companies say while the reduced fare are helping traditional taxis attract more customers, the move ultimately costs more for taxi drivers who have to pay licensing and insurance fees that Uber drivers aren’t subject to.
“While this is a good day for our valuable riders, Beck would be remiss not to highlight this fare break comes out of the pockets of Toronto’s hard-working taxi drivers, who are still being forced to compete against black market providers who continue to ignore our city’s bylaws,” Beck Taxi’s operations manager Kristine Hubbard said in a statement.
“Enforcement of all existing bylaws should happen now to support Toronto’s law-abiding workers and to ensure that riders are offered the new, lower rate in safe and reliable taxis.”
The new base fare came into effect on Nov. 1.