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Taxi drivers gather for tense meeting over proposed changes

Taxis cue along Wellington St West in downtown Toronto on Sept 13 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Hundreds of taxi owners and drivers attended a tense public meeting at City Hall Thursday to argue over a proposed change to their licenses.

The meeting of the Licensing and Standards Committee was looking at a document released last week, the Taxicab Industry Review final report, that calls for 40 revisions to the taxi business. The city claims its proposals – such as introducing the ability for drivers to demand payment in advance and charge a $25 vomit fee – will make taxis in the city more affordable and eventually, wheelchair accessible. However the suggested reforms have caused a battle between owners and drivers of taxis over control of the roads in the future.

"This report is devastating to our industry," says Gail Souter, owner of Beck Taxi. "The city says most people can call and receive a cab in less than 10 minutes. Why would we change that?"

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The revision that Ms. Souter and other taxi owners were most concerned about is the proposal to amalgamate the existing three taxi license types into one, the Toronto Taxi License (TTL).

Holders of the standard license now own their vehicles and can hire drivers to collect fares. They can also sell their plates at any time to anyone at a market rate of about $200,000. Ambassador licensed taxis on the other hand can only be driven by the owner, and have no market value because they can only be transferred inside a family.

The wheelchair accessible licenses are mostly taken by the city's Wheel Trans program, which has been criticized for not being reliable.

The move to TTL would mean holders of the new license would be able to hire other drivers to work in the car, but the owner would have to work in the taxi at least part time. Owners would be allowed to sell their license, but only to someone who plans to drive the taxi, probably decreasing the $200,000 value, cab oweners say.

If this passes it would mean a slew of licenses would become available to shift drivers who currently don't have their own, a change most would happily embrace.

"Drivers are being exploited by the middle men, the owners," says Sajiid Mughal, president of the iTaxi Workers Association. "If drivers own their own cabs, they will have more money to take home to their families."

Despite their differences, members from both sides were happy with the city's plan to increase the percentage of wheelchair accessible taxis on the road to six per cent from the current 3.5 per cent in time for the Pan Am Games.

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After the hundreds of deputations, the city's licensing and standards committee voted to defer discussion of the TTL until early next year. Aside from this, they approved the majority of the recommendations in the Taxi Industry Review, including one to allow about 300 new privately owned wheelchair taxi licences in the city by 2015.

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