City rules keep cabbie from earning

A Toronto city cab driver diagnosed with cancer says the city's unfair licensing rules are keeping him from earning a living.

Driver diagnosed with cancer forced to return plates to the city

A Toronto city cab driver diagnosed with cancer says the city's licensing rules are keeping him from earning a living.

Many city cabbies have complained about what they call unfair licensing rules, which have been the focus of an ongoing CBC News investigation.

Yohannas Iked, 54, of Mississauga was diagnosed with stomach cancer in January. A day before having surgery to remove a tumour, Iked was forced to return his taxi licence to the city.

"So what can I do?" Iked asked. "I have to sell my house or bankrupt because I don't have any income now."

Iked is one of 1,400 Toronto cabbies with an Ambassador taxi licence.

Up until the late 1990s, the city handed out standard licence plates for taxis.

They could be bought, sold, even traded with other drivers. But in 1999, the city changed the rules. Anyone with a standard plate could keep them but all new drivers had to apply for Ambassador licenses.

Unlike drivers with standard plates, cabbies with Ambassador licenses can't share or rent their vehicles. And if they get sick, they have to give the licenses back until they're healthy enough to drive again.

A few months prior to his diagnosis, Iked invested $65,000 in a wheelchair-equipped van. He hoped the new vehicle would boost his business because the city has a shortage of taxis able to transport wheelchair users.

Now his van is sitting idle because Iked's Ambassador licence prevents other drivers from using his cab while he recovers.

"When we are healthy, we can serve the public, when we are sick we are garbage," said Iked.

The licensing issue has been a long-simmering one for Toronto cabbies. 

Many accuse the city of racism because standard taxi drivers tend to be white and European while ambassador drivers are mostly minorities.

"I don't think they care about Ambassador drivers," Iked told CBC's Muhammad Lila. "Because if they care, they can investigate our situation too, and they can do some improvement too."

Jacob Leibovitch represents a taxi union that has filed a discrimination case with Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal.

"We're asking the city to go to a one-tier system, so that every driver has the equal and equivalent plate," said Leibovitch. "It's the only fair thing to do."

Earlier this month, CBC News told the story of Toronto taxi driver Khalil Talke, who has an Ambassador plate and has been unable to earn a living since being stabbed in the face by a passenger in February.

Cesar Palacio, the city councillor in charge of taxi licensing said he's aware of the problem, and looking at ways to fix it. 

On Monday night, about 600 taxi drivers were scheduled to meet to discuss what to do next.  They've already planned what they're calling a demonstration outside city hall for June 3.