After 27 years on Toronto's roads, cab driver Khalil Talke has turned in his taxi licence because he says he can no longer make a living due to high operating costs and increased competition from ride-hailing apps such as UberX.
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Talke told CBC's Here and Now Wednesday that the decision to end his career as a cabbie "wasn't easy," but his frustration with the industry had reached its breaking point.
He can no longer pay the city's high licencing fees, and he cannot afford to get snow tires this season, which is now required by the city.
Asked why he decided to turn in his licence now, he replied: "Because we are not making money. If you can't make money, you can't run your life."
Talke says he is considering driving for UberX, the ride-hailing service that many cabbies say is siphoning away business and threatening their livelihoods, but he hasn't made a final decision.
"Business-wise it's okay, I like it. Their model is okay," Talke said of UberX. "But guess what? I don't know how they are going to regulate this company. They haven't been regulated anywhere in the world."
Taxi drivers across the city have become increasingly frustrated with the growing popularity of Uber, particularly its lower-cost UberX service, in which drivers using their personal vehicles to pick up passengers via an app. This means they do not hold a city taxi licence or have commercial auto insurance.
The city is still considering plans to overhaul the taxi licencing regime and bring UberX into the fold. Meanwhile, cabbies say their business is suffering.
'They've saturated the market'
Sam Moini, a spokesperson with the Toronto Taxi Alliance, says even if drivers like Talke move to UberX, they still won't make the money they used to.
"They've saturated the market. They've added 20,000 uninsured vehicles in the city of Toronto," Moini told CBC News of UberX. "How big is the pie? People used to get a piece of the pie, now they can't even get crumbs."
He doesn't want Uber banned from the city. The company's use of technology "is great," Moini said, and it's able to make use of the city's licenced taxis and limos.
"At the end of the day it's transporting people from point A to point B for a fare. That's not technology. They're still using a vehicle," Moini said.
Talke says it can cost a taxi driver between $2,500 and $3,500 just to keep a car on the road, which forces drivers to work long hours. With UberX drivers eating up a portion of the city's fares, it's leading to "big damage" to drivers' welfare, he says.
"Uber is good for the public we know that. But my expenses are $3,000 a month," Talke says. "An Uber driver doesn't have any expenses except his private insurance."
Taxi industry 'New Year's resolutions'
Meanwhile, the Taxi Alliance issued its own New Year's resolutions this week in an effort to show customers it is willing to fight for their business by addressing their biggest complaints.
The six-point plan includes ensuring more cars are clean and have a "fresh smell," encouraging drivers to stay off their cellphones when they have a passenger, and making sure each driver has a working credit card machine.
The resolutions also include stepping up pressure on drivers to stop their practice of refusing short fares, which violates city bylaws.
"It's our New Years resolution, which we will stick to," cab driver Joel Barr told CBC. "We're out to do it, and we're out to show the public that we're here to stay, that the better choice is the legal one."
He acknowledged that big changes may not happen overnight, "but the industry and the drivers know that things have to change."