Toronto Mayor John Tory is urging his colleagues toward "badly needed progress" on taxi licensing ahead of a debate this week and to review the industry as a whole – including technologies such as Uber.
In a speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Monday, the mayor said lobbying and "self-serving turf battles" have prevented the city from moving forward on several issues at City Hall, and especially on taxis. Instead of focusing on the divided taxi industry and its many interests, Mr. Tory said, he will push for a focus on the customers, through a broad-based review of all ground transportation, including ride-share apps such as Uber.
"We have an industry stuck in the past, focused on self-serving turf battles instead of of putting the people first and battling to be the best service providers," he said Monday.
The taxi-licensing issue has a long history at City Hall. After a years-long review of the industry that included dozens of public consultations and meetings with thousands of stakeholders, city council passed a sweeping set of reforms last year to move toward a uniform, owner-operated model.
But after the October election – and the appointment of a new licensing committee – the seven-member committee voted last month to reverse key parts of those 2014 reforms, due in large part to heavy lobbying from vocal opponents within the taxi industry.
For council to approve that reversal, Mr. Tory said Monday, would be "the legislative equivalent, I believe, of sticking our heads in the sand."
Instead, he said, the battle should not be between the different segments of the taxi industry, but about getting all the segments together at the table, and figuring out a solution that works for everyone.
Uber – a ride-sharing app introduced to Toronto in 2012 – flouts city by-laws by calling itself a technology company and not a taxi service. Earlier this year, city staff launched legal action against the company, aiming to shut down its operations in Toronto. The case is set to be heard in courts later this month.
"Let me be clear: I am not for plate owners. But I'm also not for drivers. I'm also not for Uber or, I can certainly tell you, I'm not for middlemen in this business. I'm for the people. I think we should all be there making our decisions based on what is good for the people who use and even rely on taxis."
Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong moved a similar motion for a broad-based review of the industry last month at council, but that motion failed to pass. The mayor indicated he was optimistic for a better outcome this week, telling reporters "there's … a time and place for everything. You'll have to see what unfolds."
At his speech Monday, the mayor also used food trucks – another perpetual issue that will return to City Hall this week – as an example of what he described as the city's sluggishness for change, and overzealousness in regulations. After years of struggling to regulate street food, council will vote this week on whether to further loosen the rules for food trucks, and allow them to park within 30 metres of restaurants (down from 50 metres, which truck owners argued was overly restrictive).
The mayor has said in the past that he supports loosening these rules.
"It's been a long-running soap opera at City Hall that I hope has finally reached an end," Mr. Tory said Monday. "We created a regulatory regime that was an abject failure. We saw to it … that anybody that went in the food truck business would be hard-pressed to make a profit, or even stay in the business."
But at least one councillor, Gord Perks, said he doesn't think the city has a problem with over-regulation. "That's actually serving the public," he said. "We regulate the services that take place in Toronto in the public interest. I think the mayor has to learn that lesson."