Standard plate issue DEFERRED (updated May 6th with link to Council minutes)

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The issue of grandfathering the Standard Plate was addressed by Toronto Council on May 5th; however, on a motion by Mayor John Tory, the issue was deferred until after the Uber court case which will be heard on May 19th, 20th, and 21st.

Despite the fact that the Standard Plate issue and the Uber issue have no connection to each other, the majority of councillors voted to defer the issue. The date being suggested is "June;" however, it could be several months after that before the judge offers any decision.

Click here to see the Council Minutes on the Standard Plate agenda item, including the list of Councillors who voted for or against deferral of the item.

Larry Levy, WWII vet & Standard Plate owner

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Larry Levy and his wife Betty attended the L&S Committee meeting on March 24th to ask Councillors to grandfather Toronto's Standard Taxi plate. You can view Larry's interview here. 

Larry fought with Canada in Holland in World War II and returned to start his own taxi business with multiple cars which he ran for half of a century. When he started his business, Toronto told plate owners that owning a plate was a business investment and that owners would be able to retire with the plates as their pension. In February 2014, Toronto reneged on this long-standing agreement, leaving lifetime taxi industry members like Larry Levy out in the cold.

"I love this country and the people in it. I'm just asking Canada to do the same thing for me I did for Canada: fight for me," Levy says.

 

 

Councillor DiGiorgio sponsors motion to grandfather the Standard Plate at L&S Committee

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Larry Levy, 90-year-old World War 2 vet attended the March 24 Licensing and Standards meeting with his wife Betty. They were among the first speakers and did an excellent job of illustrating the point that devaluing the Standard Plate has unfairly harmed many life-long taxi industry members. Levy once ran 7 plates, and currently owns two.

At the March 24th meeting of the Licensing and Standards Committee, Councillor Frank DiGiorgio proposed the following motion, which passed unanimously:

"L+S Committee directs the Executive Director of Municipal Licensing and Standards to bring forward to the Licensing and Standards Committee the necessary bylaw amendments to reinstate the Standard Taxicab regulations that were in effect prior to February 19, 2014, and to provide a report to the Committee at its meeting on April 21, 2015.”

The full agenda and minutes of the meeting are available here.

The report requested of staff is scheduled to come back to L&S Committee on April 21st. Interested parties will have a chance to make deputations to Committee again on April 21st at 10am. To have your name included on the list of deputants, you can call 416-397-4592 or email lsc@toronto.ca

The report would then go on to Toronto City Council May 5,6,7.

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Asafo Addai who represents Ambassador Drivers on the TTA Executive Committee told L&S Committee members that he believes the Standard Plate should be grandfathered, "as a matter of fairness." Addai's institutional memory of how the Ambassador Plate was created was very helpful to the Committee, and he was able to answer all of their questions.

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TTA Executive Committee member Sam Moini and his father Hussein spoke to L&S Committee member to ensure Councillors have the fleet perspective before they make any decisions. "The Fleets are the backbone of the industry," Sam pointed out. "The reason Toronto residents can access cabs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is because the Fleet garages make sure the cabs are running. Moving to an unknown business model with the Toronto Taxi License will kill the fleets on which Toronto depends."

 

Uber And Airbnb: Make These Silicon Valley Darlings Accountable

Diane Francis | March 13, 2015 | Last Updated: Mar 13 7:04 PM ET

Uber and Airbnb are the darlings of Silicon Valley whose founders describe themselves as technology companies and pioneers of the “sharing economy.” But I don’t buy it.

The shared economy — multiple use of assets — is an old model and cabs, Zip Car and hotels have been around for some time.
Airbnb and Uber are simply intermediaries with technology and a business model that undercuts competitors and harms customers because it is based on circumventing rules, regulations and laws that apply to everyone else or to Zip Car, hotels and other intermediaries or brokers.

Airbnb is an online listings site that books more nights than does Hyatt Hotels worldwide at relatively low prices, but here’s how.
The company requires clients to sign a Terms of Service agreement that indemnifies the company from responsibility for injuries, damages, taxes, regulations or anything.

Because Airbnb believes it is indemnified, the company does not vet renters or units. This means that strangers who have not been checked or referenced can stay in units without permission of the landlord or neighboring condo owners or renters. These people may be convicted burglars, pedophiles or terrorists and, through Airbnb, they are able to gain access to residents, corridors, stairwells, gyms, pools, locker rooms, lounges and parking garages.

This also means that renters could be exposed to risks, too, because they may be staying in units obtained through Airbnb that violent persons own or have access to.

Airbnb listings also ignore the reality that in New York City and other urban areas, short-term rentals are, legally speaking, “hotels” and must pay hotel and income taxes. In addition, “hotel” units must meet hotel-standard fire, security, safety, zoning and other protective criteria, and Airbnb units do not.

Not surprisingly, horror stories are starting to surface about prostitutes, criminals or worse renting through Airbnb in many places. In January, New York City Council held hearings into an outright ban, New York State’s Attorney declared Airbnb short-term rentals as “illegal hotels” and the Real Estate Board of New York said such rentals raise “serious concerns for the safety of residents”.
Then there is Uber.

It’s an online cab dispatch service that matches passengers with drivers — nothing more than a digital hitch-hiking service. Uber also requires clients to sign away their rights: “You expressly waive and release the company from any and all liability, claims or damages arising from or in any way related to the third party transportation provider.”

The result is that Uber can offer cheap fares (through its Uber X option) because it uses drivers without training, livery licences, inspected vehicles or sufficient insurance. (Uber also has a luxury service, called Uber Black or SUV, that uses properly licensed, inspected and insured cars and drivers who demand very high fares.)

Not surprisingly like Airbnb, Uber X horror stories have surfaced and the company is under attack and banned in some jurisdictions. So far, Uber X drivers have been charged with dangerous driving, physical assault, sexual assault and rape.

While such incidents have been few and far between, Uber X’s business model exemplifies the same disregard for laws, rules, regulations and public safety as does Airbnb’s.

Most agree, as I do, that people have a right to rent out their residence for extra cash, but that they do not have the right to bypass their building bylaws, neighbors’ safety, regulatory safeguards or to evade taxes.

Similarly, people have a right to hire someone to drive them around, and if they don’t check their insurance, safety or criminal records, they have only themselves to blame. But allowing companies like these to make millions in fees as intermediaries without adhering to laws, rules, regulations or adherence to public safety is not something that any government on any level should allow.

Frankly, Uber X (not its platform to match passengers with legitimate livery services) should be banned and so should Airbnb unless it lists only legally constituted units that meet hotel criteria and pay taxes.

Most importantly, no company should be allowed to ask clients to indemnify them and no courts should recognize this indemnification either.

Nobody else has this privilege, not individuals or businesses like Marriott or Hyatt Hotels, Checker Cabs, Air Canada, American Airlines, Via Rail, Amtrak, Greyhound Bus, financial advisors, lawyers, accountants and other intermediaries.

Despite many critics and negative headlines, the two companies have not mended their ways, but have hired fancy public relations experts to protect their brands. But the only fix is for governments and tax authorities to crack down on them and make them accountable for their actions.

Financial Post
dfrancis@nationalpost.com

 

Taxi widows win injunction against City Hall

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judidoris

 

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.”