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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Is Toronto’s Taxi Industry a Hotbed of Corruption?

If you are like most Torontonians, you don't necessarily get the warm
and fuzzies when you think of taxi drivers. We all have our own
stories about being overcharged, being driven on round about routes,
rude taxi drivers…… And sympathy for Toronto taxi drivers doesn't run
very high. But if you accept as fact the results of study that was
done by University of Toronto sociology professor Sara Abraham,
Ryerson politics professor Aparna Sundar, and Osgoode Hall law student
Dale Whitmore, then they are to be pitied, not scorned.

Deena Ladd of the Workers' Action Centre supported the study's
findings. Even though the report is highly controversial and some of
the findings are in dispute, it is very clear that something must be
done to reform the taxi industry, immediately if not sooner.

The report called "Toronto Taxi Drivers: Ambassadors of the City"
detailed the exploitation and substandard hourly wages earned by many
Toronto taxi drivers. At the heart of the problem seems to be the
small license plates that you see at the back of the taxi. They are a
legal requirement and they are worth a king's ransom in the taxi world
– anywhere from $140,000 - $175,000. Needless to say many taxi drivers
can't afford to own a plate, so they lease instead on a daily, weekly,
or monthly basis. Prior to 1998 anyone could own a taxi plate.
Although the law now requires the owner to be a licensed taxi driver,
there are many permits still in existence prior to 1998.

According to Richard Mucha, Licensing Manager of Municipal Licensing
and Standards:

• There are 3,480 standard plates in Toronto
• There are 1,403 Ambassador plates in Toronto - These plates were
given to the drivers by the city. They do not pay a leasing fee and
cannot rent out their cars.
• There are 105 wheelchair-accessible plates in Toronto
• Of the 3,480 standard plates, 1,335 are owned by 556 corporate entities
• 1,080 plates are currently being leased by drivers who rent
• The average fee to lease a plate is $1,150/month

According to the study there are taxi drivers leasing plates who are
earning $2.00/hour. And, if these drivers didn't work marathon hours,
they could actually end up losing money. In addition, many taxi
drivers also say that they are victims of racism perpetrated upon them
by their customers. Jim Bell, President of the Toronto Taxi Alliance
and General Manager of Diamond Taxi, doesn't believe that drivers are
earning so low an hourly wage and states that in his experience
drivers are making on average $12.00 - $15.00 per hour. His theory on
the low hourly earnings is that drivers are under reporting. What ever
you believe or disbelieve, it seems quite apparent that the taxi
industry in Toronto merits further investigation and reform.

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