Toronto's biggest taxi brokerage is urging its drivers not to take part in blockades or strikes aimed at this weekend's NBA All-Star Game, saying disrupting the event would "give Uber exactly what they want."
The president of Beck Taxi will be sending repeated pleas to drivers through the week, trying to persuade them not to join the brewing protests.
"Some may want to convince you a protest that upsets this big event would help us get our message out," read a note to drivers on Tuesday from Gail Beck-Souter. "They are wrong. It would only hurt our valued customers."
The NBA All-Star Game is expected to generate about $100-million for the local economy and bring international attention. But the prospect of taxi disruptions are hanging over it, as unhappy cabbies consider leveraging the weekend's sporting events to bring attention to their cause.
Many in the industry are furious at the way Uber is undermining their livelihood. A particular source of ire is the UberX model of matching passengers with non-professional drivers using private vehicles. UberX is not currently covered under the city's bylaws, which are being updated to take in both this sort of company and the traditional taxi industry. Tempers have frayed in the meantime, and many blame Mayor John Tory personally for their plight.
Paul Sekhon, head of the United Taxi Workers Association of the GTA, predicted on Monday that protests this weekend would be similar to the cabbie blockade that closed Queen Street for hours in December, only bigger and in multiple locations around the core.
He said there were only two ways to stop it from happening. "Shut down UberX, ASAP," the driver, plate-owner and manager at City Taxi said. "Or Mayor Tory can step down."
But another industry leader, Sajid Mughal, president of the iTaxiWorkers Association, said the final decision on a protest would not be made until Thursday. He said drivers understand the concerns about alienating the public, but he argued that they are in dire straits.
"We, as a cab industry, have been alienated by everyone, mostly [the] mayor," Mr. Mughal said. "We are suffering financially … our tummies are empty."
In her statement to drivers, Ms. Beck-Souter acknowledged the frustration that many feel and pledged to fight for a fair deal.
"I get you feel left behind, forgotten, dispensable, that no one values the dedication you've made to this industry and the people of Toronto," she wrote.
"But I want you to know that I value your contribution and I'm going to keep fighting for you. I'm going to write you every day this week to ask that you avoid this protest. It will not help our industry. I know in my heart of hearts there is a better way to accomplish our goals. I trust the people of Toronto believe in fairness and equity, and that city hall will come to reflect in their decisions the values of Torontonians."