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Prepayment, cleaning fee proposed for Toronto cabs

Taxis line up on King St. West outside First Canadian Place in downtown Toronto on March 12 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

City of Toronto staff are recommending a slew of changes to the taxicab industry, ranging from how licenses are structured and distributed, to allowing drivers to demand payment upfront and charge a "cleaning fee" for messy rides.

Toronto's Licensing and Standards Committee released its final report Thursday on the city's taxicab industry, which aims to improve the industry for both riders and drivers. The report will need to be approved by the committee, before council has a chance to vote on it.

A number of the report's recommendations could make finding cabs easier, and more accessible. The report suggests creating designated "hail spots" – areas where cabs and riders would know where to find one another, and looks at the feasibility of allowing cab drivers to wait in front of fire hydrants for fares. It would also require all new licence-holder to ensure their cabs are wheelchair accessible.

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Many of the suggested changes are aimed at improving conditions for drivers, too. To curb fare-jumping, drivers would be allowed to request payment at the beginning of a ride, up to a maximum of $25. And drivers would be allowed to demand a "cleaning fee" if the passenger "soils" the cab.

But the change most likely to inflame drivers are the ones aimed at harmonizing the city's two-tiered cab licensing system. Under the present system, there are standard licences and "Ambassador" licences. Drivers with standard licences can lease or rent out their cab, and – more importantly –sell their licence. According to city staff, a standard taxicab licence currently holds an average market value of around $210,000. Drivers with Ambassador taxicabs, meanwhile, are owner-operators, and not allowed to sell, lease, or rent out their car.

The staff report recommends creating a new type of taxi licence – called the "Toronto Taxicab Licence" – which the other two types of licenced drivers would gradually transition into, and on a voluntary basis. The new licence would be transferrable, and allow drivers to rent out their vehicle for second shifts. It would also eliminate the current practice of one owner or corporation owning multiple licences, as TTL-holders would be required to drive their own vehicle for a minimum of 167 hours per month. Currently, according to a staff estimate, over 32 per cent of the city's over 4,800 licences are held by owners who have multiple licenses.

Jim Bell, a spokesperson for the Taxicab Alliance, said he's "very disappointed" by the city report. He said that allowing current "Ambassador" drivers to have transferable licences they can sell will dilute the value of current standard taxi licences.

"Many people have planned their retirements on the investment they made when they were younger. They mortgaged their homes to be able to purchase a plate, and now they're changing the rules yet again."

And Carlos Alberto, a cab driver in Toronto for the past two years, worried that the new licencing system would put more taxis on the road. By allowing current "Ambassador" licence drivers to rent their cars out to second drivers, their cars can be on the road for more hours a day. "There's too many in the city," he said.

Already, he said, it's hard for him to make a living. "Every single day, you start with a deficit – $125 deficit, at least. $90 is rent, and $30-$35 for gas. So from $125, you have to try to make money. How are you going to make money?"

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But Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong called the report a "balanced" one. Mr. Minnan-Wong was one of the original supporters of the "Ambassador" campaign in the late 1990s, which was originally created in hopes that owner-operators would provide safer, more pleasant rides. Of the report, he said, "the principles behind it are positive. We're going to move to a cab industry that's more accessible, which is positive for an aging population."

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National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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