TORONTO, ONTARIO — For the first time since 1986, the City of Toronto is poised to put more livery license plates on the streets. After some fine-tuning — and despite hearing many angry taxi industry deputations against it — Toronto's Planning & Transportation Committee (P&T) voted 5-1 in favor of a staff recommendation to lift the longstanding freeze on livery issuances. Currently, there are 305 livery vehicles licensed in Toronto, and 603 licensed drivers. No new licenses have been issued since 1986.
In supporting this recommendation, Councilman Howard Moscoe noted that the city has been involved in a consultative process with livery industry representatives since June 2001, and that, "there's a lot of frustration" because they have not been able to grow their businesses since 1986.
Moscoe said strict limitations must be placed on these limousines to ensure they won't end up competing with cabs. In recommending that the minimum livery rate be raised to $70 per hour (from the staff recommendation of $60), he noted, "Taxi fares have gone up by approximately 10% (over the past five years). We're raising it to match."
Moscoe stressed that there must be a ratio imposed between the number of stretch limousines and regular sedan cars in these companies rather than making the issuance of new liveries open-ended.
"The only way (this program) can operate successfully is with a company milieu," he added, "because the companies establish standards. There's really (a legitimate organization there, offering) a different service than taxis."
He noted that there are an estimated 600 to 700 limousines currently operating without licenses in Toronto, and that this program would bring them under city regulation. The staff report concluded that, "legitimate business opportunities are limited by provisions that have not changed since the mid-1980s, and do not reflect the current realities of the industry in the city of Toronto.
"The recommendation to create a new license category for companies that provide livery service, separate from driver's and owner's licenses, will establish a level of accountability for these types of businesses and provide higher standards of consumer protection," the report added. "(These recommendations) provide distinct and enforceable differences between taxicabs and livery vehicles. Not only will consumers be better served by a more contemporary industry, they will be better protected by a set of clear rules and regulations guiding the activities of the industry in Toronto."
The P&T recommended that the Municipal Code be amended to:
· create a new category of business licenses known as "livery service company", at a fee level of $320 (Canadian) for initial applications and $193 (Canadian) for renewals
· require all owners of licensed livery vehicles to register their vehicles with a livery service company and file documentation with the city
· require livery service companies as a minimum requirement to own or employ at least one stretched vehicle for every two sedan vehicles up to a maximum of four sedan vehicles, and thereafter one stretch for every six sedans
· require all livery fares to be prearranged through a livery service company, a minimum of 20 minutes prior to pickup
· require all livery drivers and owners who drive to keep an on-going daily log of all revenues from service and all completed trips, and produce this log upon request of the city
· prohibit livery vehicles from "staging" on city streets within 200 meters of a hotel, theater or entertainment facility
· require livery vehicles to be inspected for mechanical fitness by the city's designated mechanics on a regularly scheduled basis, at least twice annually
· that staff develop a training program for existing livery drivers, owners who drive and new applicants
· the hiring of three new full-time enforcement officers coordinated with the timing of the implementation of this program
· and, that luxury livery service should include a wheelchair accessible component.
Many Toronto cabbies lashed out against these recommendations at the April 25 P&T session, claiming they would simply create even more competition for them on streets already overstocked with taxis. And they complained that the city has had absolutely minimal success in protecting their business from the illegal "scoopers" and out-of-town cabs who steal lucrative airport runs from them as a matter of course.
While happy to finally "get this issue moving forward", Joe Ironi, president of the Ontario Limousine Owners Association insisted there was no need for any of the amendments to the staff report — and that he still hopes to have them repealed. From the outset of this four-year consultative process, he maintained that livery plates provide a different type of service than taxis (catering primarily to high-end corporate accounts, at set rates), and that it is the illegal scoopers at Toronto hotels who are creating the problem for cabbies.
"There's no reasonable rationale for upping the minimum price to $70 (Canadian). That's more than 15%," he said afterward. "If you make the spread too big, it could really hurt us." Appearing before the P&T, Ironi had suggested that, "You're hearing a lot of statements based on misunderstanding. For 19 years, we could not get a license, so companies have expanded despite that fact. And over the past four years, all of this hard work has been done to come up with a system that works for both (parties involved)."
Craig McCutcheon, president and CEO of Rosedale Livery, said his company is forced to turn down 50 trips a day. "We've had our license for 25 years, and have not grown by one car," he stated. "We're the only city in North America that has a freeze on the ability to grow (a livery) company."
His firm has a fleet of 55 cars (including six or seven stretches), and, "the bulk of our work is corporate," catering to more than 4,000 business clients.
"Our customers are making a serious choice every day — going from City Hall to the Scotia Tower for $75 (Canadian)," McCutcheon added. "We're absolutely not in direct competition with the cab industry."