Widow of murdered taxi driver speaks on losing the Standard Plate

BY ,TORONTO SUN
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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.