About 100 cab drivers gathered at Hamilton city hall on Tuesday, demanding that council push the province to tackle rising insurance costs.
Rates, they say, have risen as much as 400 per cent since 2008, with some Hamilton drivers paying as much as $18,000 per year to stay on the road.
“We are going out of business,” said Mohammed Faheem Shahid, vice-president of the Ontario Taxi Workers Union.
“If we don't get insurance, we can't drive the car. People won't get service.”
While the crowd congregated near the front doors at city hall, councillors in attendance at the planning committee voted unanimously to pass a motion to lobby the Ontario government, which regulates auto insurance, for relief for taxi drivers.
“Taxis play an important role,” said Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins, who added that losing taxi services deprives Hamiltonians of much-needed transportation services. “I think the least we can do is petition the province.”
“I think we all have experienced the issues of insurance premiums on automobiles. It's frustrating that at times like now, they keep hitting at and hitting at members of the general public,” said Ward 10 councillor Maria Pearson.
The Hamilton protest comes two weeks after NDP leader Andrea Horwath called on the governing Liberals to legislate a 15 per cent cut to auto insurance for Ontarians.
Major changes to auto insurance regulations in 2010 "dramatically" reduced benefits for drivers and turned out to be a huge "bonus" for companies, Horwath said. In 2011, the value of statutory accident payouts dropped by 50 per cent from the year before, to just under $2 billion, she said.
"Ontarians are tired of waiting," Horwath said. "Changes have been made to the Ontario insurance system that have allowed the companies to have far, far less in their payouts. And yet, that's not being realized in savings, in rates, to Ontarians."
A car premium break of 15 per cent is fair for both insurers and drivers, she added.
Horwath has indicated to industry leaders that they should make this change, and if they don't, the government should mandate it through the provincial regulator, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario.
"Fifteen per cent is reasonable when you consider that their payouts reduced by 50 per cent,” she said. “That's a reasonable expectation.”With files from The Canadian Press