Toronto is considering overhauling the way its entire 4,849-vehicle taxi fleet operates, including calling for all cabs to eventually become fully accessible and requiring all vehicles to use one type of "harmonized" licence to ensure that owner-operators are driving full time.
Cabbies have long sought a single class of licence, but the proposed changes could come at a big cost to them — particularly the accessibility upgrades required under the new standards.
"Nobody can afford to save that kind of money from taxis. The plates are about $300,000," said Abdul Ali, who has been a driver for 25 years. "I don't see how anyone like me can afford that type of money."
Even Jim Blight, who is legally blind, feels the long-term accessibility requirements go too far.
"It's a stupid idea," he said. "There just aren't that many people who need accessibility. You don't need all taxis to be accessible. Each company should have some available."
Fewer than four per cent of Toronto cabs are wheelchair accessible, but the aim is to double the city's number of accessible cabs by the 2015 Pan American Games.
The preliminary report suggests introducing a new Toronto Taxicab Licence to replace the current ambassador and standard licences when they're sold. The biggest distinction between the two current classes is that the standard licence can be sold or transferred to other drivers, whereas the ambassador cannot.
Ambassador licencees have grumbled in the past about being at a financial disadvantage because they're unable to rent their cars out to somebody else if they ever get sick or need a holiday.
Under the Toronto Taxicab Licence rules, owners would have to get behind the wheel full-time, but they'd also be allowed to rent out the vehicle to another driver for a second shift.
The idea is to crack down on what the report calls "absentee owners" and boost customer service for passengers by getting the actual owner on the road, said Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong.
"The Toronto taxi plate will require the owners of that plate to drive the car a certain number of hours a month, which are owner-operated taxis, which are better taxis," Minnan-Wong said.
Shields for drivers
The preliminary report is also studying the issue of driver safety, and whether or not protective shields need to be installed in some taxis to limit interaction between the front and back seats.
Unlike in other cities, Wong said he feels Toronto cabbies don't need the shields, reasoning it could be uncomfortable for passengers.
"It takes out leg room; in the summertime it blocks air conditioning," Minnan-Wong said.
In March, a spate of knife attacks and robberies against taxi drivers had them calling for more protections.
Back at his cab, driver Ali said he thinks the shields are a good idea that the city should seriously consider.
"I don't think that councillor ever drove a taxi," he said. "He doesn't know. He doesn't know the day-to-day life of taxi drivers and the security issues. He just has the theory."
After a series of consultations in July, the taxicab industry review should be finalized by September.