Hamilton taxi drivers struggle to pay plate licensing fees during COVID-19 pandemic

The taxi cab industry will huddle with the City of Hamilton to try and find a solution as drivers struggle to make enough money to pay annual plate licensing fees.

Plate licensing fee deadline extended to Dec. 31 and cab industry will meet with city planning department

Blue Line Taxi is saying drivers don't have the money to pay for annual fees for their plates during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Cash-strapped Hamilton taxi drivers struggling to pay their annual plate licensing fees because of COVID-19 will huddle with city officials this fall to try to find a solution.

Because without one, drivers can't be on the road. 

Blue Line Transportation Ltd. asked city council in a letter dated Oct. 9 to defer the Sept. 30 licensing deadline to Dec. 31. That will allow drivers time to meet with the city and brainstorm how they can manage their crippling business woes.

The pandemic has been hard on the industry, said Blue Line president Anthony Rizzuto, and drivers need a break.

Blue Line employed, directly or indirectly, more than 600 Hamilton residents in 2019, he said in a letter to city councillors. Right now, it's barely one-third of that.

"Blue Line is operating with a little over 58 per cent of its 'normal' fleet size servicing Hamilton customer demand that has grown since March, but only sits at roughly 60 per cent of where it was in October of 2019," Rizzuto wrote. "The pandemic has created a long-term shift in operations and consumer behaviour."

Councillors say they won't waive any fees, but did approve an extended deadline. That will give the company time to meet with Hamilton's planning and economic development department.

Tom Jackson, Ward 6 councillor, says retired drivers in his ward count on taxi plates as a form of retirement income. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The annual licensing fee is $661 per taxi. Coun. Tom Jackson (Ward 6), who moved the motion, says the fees equate to more than $400,000 per year for the city.

Cab companies struggled before COVID-19

Cab companies were already struggling before the pandemic. A February city report says 244 vehicles have lost affordable insurance coverage recently, and at least 105 drivers have surrendered their plates. The industry has also struggled to compete with Uber and other ride-hailing companies.

"For many retirees, those plates are invaluable at the time they are no longer driving and they sell them. It's a form of retirement income," Jackson said.

"I have many drivers in my constituency who are of a multicultural background as well. Many of them came to this country, have degrees from their old country and are driving a taxi, it's their only source of income."