Taxi widows win injunction against City Hall

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

TORONTO TAXI WIDOWS WIN INJUNCTION AGAINST CITY HALL:
TORONTO MUST DELAY CHANGES UNTIL FALL COURT HEARING

(TORONTO, Ontario – June 26, 2014) – A group of taxi widows were successful in convincing a judge to grant an injunction to stop the City of Toronto from imposing sections of a new taxi licensing regime scheduled to become effective July 1, 2014.

The Honourable Justice D.G. Stinson of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued an injunction against the City from acting upon or implementing those sections of the new by-law that prevented a purchaser of a Standard Taxicab or the estate of a deceased Standard Taxicab owner from being issued a Standard Taxi License (STL) after June 30, 2014.

The Toronto Taxi Alliance filed the motion for the injunction on behalf of the taxi widows and all standard plate owners. The Toronto Taxi Alliance has applied to Ontario Superior Court to have the motions passed by Council on February 19th quashed. The hearing date is set for fall, 2014.

Arguments on the injunction were heard in Ontario Superior Court at 361 University Avenue on June 25. The decision was released at about 6pm.

When told of the news the taxi widows and other standard plate owners were elated.

“We are very pleased with this decision. We feel our concerns have been validated by Ontario Superior Court, and we look forward to having the opportunity to present our full argument in the Application to Quash,” said Joel Barr, a Standard Taxicab owner and member of the Toronto Taxi Alliance.

“The Court has recognized that there will be irreparable harm to standard plate owners if the operation of the by-law was not suspended until the court determined the validity of the by-law on the Application to Quash.”

The court also ordered that if the by-law is upheld on the hearing of the Application to Quash, then those persons who acquired an STL after June 30, 2014, would not have any right to claim that they should be treated as if they had been an STL holder on or before July 1, 2014.

“The City’s proposed changes would destroy the lifetime investment of hundreds of cab drivers and their families and will hurt vulnerable people,” Barr said.

“For almost 50 years, Toronto has assured the taxi industry that investing in a Standard Plate was an investment in a business which would help provide income and a retirement nest egg. The taxi industry has held up its part of the bargain, and helped Toronto build one of the best taxicab services in the world. Now, Toronto wants to renege on the deal to the severe detriment of elderly drivers, their widows and their families,” Barr said.

After three years of negotiations with the taxi industry, Toronto City Council ignored the recommendations of its own Licensing and Standards Committee and passed motions on February 19th to overhaul the taxi licensing regime. The changes to the Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 545 were approved by Council on June 13 and were scheduled to come into effect on July 1.

Among other changes, the new regime would replace the Standard taxi plate with a Toronto Taxicab License (TTL). TTL owners must operate the cab themselves and cannot lease them out and generate income the way Standard plate owners can under the current rules.  All TTL license will require the owner to purchase and operate a wheel-chair accessible vehicle. Further, the restrictions and conditions associated with the TTL would severely dilute the value of the Standard taxi plate.
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Here is a DRAFT document resulting from the injunction hearing today. Final version to follow; the gist of the decision is here but the language may change slightly.

Media contact:
Rita Smith
Toronto Taxi Alliance
ritasmith@rogers.com

About the Toronto Taxi Alliance
The Toronto Taxi Alliance represents the vast majority of Standard Taxicab owners, brokerages, fleets, agents, and many Ambassador permit holders. The member brokerages of the TTA represent more than 4,000 of the 4,800 taxis on the road.

Widow of murdered taxi driver speaks on losing the Standard Plate

BY ,TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: 
UPDATED: 

Taxi rule change hurts small plate owners

TORONTO - Nusrat Raana’s husband was murdered in a vicious knife attack while he was eking out a living for his young family driving his cab overnight.

The youngest of their four children was just seven-months-old when he didn’t come home that next morning.

There was no life insurance, no savings. All Mahmood Ahmad Bhatti left his widow was his standard taxicab owner plate, the valuable commodity that she could use to lease out his cab for a monthly fee and one day sell for as much as $350,000.

But thanks to controversial city bylaw changes that come into force July 1, Raana is terrified her only source of income is about to disappear.

She’s one of several widows hoping the Toronto Taxi Alliance will be successful Wednesday in getting an interim injunction to halt next week’s sweeping reforms of Toronto’s cab licensing framework until they can apply to quash the new regime at a court hearing scheduled for this fall.

Under the current convoluted two-tiered system, owners who hold the valuable standard plates could rent out their taxis and not have to get behind the wheel. On the open market, the plates could be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those with ambassador licences were not allowed to sell them and they couldn’t lease out their vehicle to anyone else.

The city complained that most of those who had bought up the standard plates — some owned hundreds of them — were rich, absentee owners who didn’t care if their cabs were unclean or falling apart. Those renting them complained they were “slaves” doing all the work for very little return.

In February, city council decided to scrap the two different streams and convert everyone to a new Toronto Taxicab Licence. Owners must now drive the cab themselves for 38.5 hours a week and must have a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

It was good news for Toronto’s 1,313 ambassador licence-holders, who will be allowed to hire three additional drivers to operate their cab when they’re not working. But it’s a disaster for the small plate owner.

They hoped they’d be grandfathered and exempt from the changes. But in February, city council caught them off guard when they passed a motion requiring everyone to convert to the new system by 2024.

The new restrictions and conditions on this new kind of licence has meant that those hoping to sell their standard plate has seen its value plummet. A standard licence that would have fetched $350,000 last year went for $190,000 last month — and it will only fall further.

The Toronto Taxi Alliance knows it won’t get much sympathy for their members who are owners with a fleet of these cabs. But for the little guy, like 83-year-old Doris Kostyck, her late husband’s two plates was supposed to be her nest egg.

“This is the most embarrassing, humiliating thing to have to go through, to put your problems out in public,” the distraught widow told a press conference Tuesday organized by the alliance. “I’m begging them not to go ahead with this because it’s going to hurt too many people.”

It was a plea echoed by Raana.

Her family currently lives in subsidized housing and depends on the $1,300 a month she earns by renting out her taxi to two shift drivers. Under the new system, she will have to drive it herself within 10 years or sell her plate at a fire sale price.

It seems awfully unfair to a widow whose husband was stabbed six times in the back of the neck at 3 a.m. and left to bleed to death behind the wheel of his cab in 2006. “My youngest son doesn’t remember his father. He’s always asking, ‘Did he hug me, mom? Did he take me to the park?’”

Bhatti’s killer, Johnathan Forder, has served his time and is already out of prison — his future ahead of him.

While Raana is now terrified about their own.

“The city won’t help me in any way — this is my only income,” she said. “With the new law that just passed, it has made it exceptionally difficult for me and my four young children.”

With a city council vote, the only thing her murdered husband had left her has been virtually wiped away.

Toronto Council actions embarrass & humiliate widow of taxi driver

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By Jessica Smith Cross
June 24, 2014
Updated: June 24, 2014 | 5:49 pm

Toronto ‘taxi widows’ denounce city’s overhaul of taxi industry

A group of women known as “taxi widows” spoke at a press conference Tuesday denouncing city council’s overhaul of the taxi industry.

“The first thing I have to say is this is the most embarrassing, humiliating thing to have to go through, to put your problems out in public,” said Doris Kostyck.

Kostyck, 83, was among a small group of women assembled by the taxi industry group called the Toronto Taxicab Alliance to tell their own stories about how the changes will affect them.

Kostyck’s story was typical of the taxi widows. Her husband Leo was a driver for 40 years.

“He got knifed, he got robbed, all the things that cab drivers do,” she said.

He passed away 23 years ago and she has been living off the leasing income from the two plates.

Under the rules approved by city council that take effect in July, she will be able to continue to lease the plates for the next 10 years but then must sell to someone who will drive the taxis — not lease them as she does now.

“I’m in a dire straight and don’t know which way to turn,” she said. “And I have Parkinson’s disease to look forward to.”

Leasing plates is typically more lucrative than selling them outright and, according to the industry group, the uncertainty surrounding the changes to the system have made the value of the plates — often sold for more than $300,000 before the changes — fall significantly.

The highest sale price since the reforms were passed in February was $232,000. Most of the 60 sales since then have been for less than $200,000. The average of plates sold (for more than a nominal amount, which indicates a transfer between family members), fell from about $250,000 in 2012 to $134,000 since the council decision.

The group has filed a lawsuit that seeks to stop the changes, arguing that council’s decision violated procedure, and will be in court Wednesday arguing for an injunction to stop the city from proceeding while the suit moves through the courts.

Kostyck disputed the stereotype, talked of by city councillors and staff at the meeting when the decision was made, of the absentee plate owner as owning many plates and living off the leasing income while sipping drinks in Florida.

“I have a son living down there,” she said. “They all threw in for my flight and health insurance and I went down to visit at Christmas.”

Just how representative the widows are of plate owners, and exactly who owns multiple plates, is unclear. City records show that 56 companies have five or more licences, 14 have 10 or more. The top two companies have 18 plates each.

However, dozens of numbered companies own plates, so who controls the companies — and the true concentration of plates — is not publicly known.

The councillors who voted for the industry reforms did so mainly to improve the lives of shift drivers, who rent time in taxis and have long complained about working long hours that often leave them coming home with less than the equivalent of minimum wage.

By transitioning to a system where the owner of the taxi plate must drive the taxi, the reforms are intended to cut out the middlemen and leave more money for drivers.

Plates cannot be willed

One woman was in a different situation than the others. Gail Bouchard’s sister, Beverly Chilton, was a taxi widow and passed away recently. Bouchard is the executive of her sister’s will and responsible for the financial well being of her sister’s intellectually disabled adult son.

Under the city’s rules, plates can’t be willed, so she has one year to sell her sister’s two plates to provide for her nephew. Where she may have gotten a total of $600-700,000 for the pair plates if she’d sold them a year ago, she believes she’ll get significantly less if she tries today.

Bouchard said the uncertainty about the changes has made the plates hard to sell and the lawsuit has made that worse.

“The price of the cabs has dropped dramatically,” she said. “… no one who wants to buy them because of the bylaws changing.”