Toronto taxi drivers call off plans for strike ahead of NBA All-Star Game
'I'm a little hot-headed sometimes,' says protest organizer
Toronto taxi drivers have called off plans to stage a strike that would have slowed traffic during this weekend's NBA All-Star Weekend festivities.
Cabbies had planned to block traffic to protest against the way the city is handling UberX, the ride hailing app they say is operating illegally and cutting into their business. UberX, Uber's lower-cost service, connects riders with drivers that are not licensed as taxis in the city.
Taxi representatives announced their intentions to stand down after meeting with a group of city councillors Wednesday.
"We never had an intention to hijack the city ahead of this," said Paul Sekhon of the United Taxi Workers Association, who had earlier in the day said 8,000 vehicles would be protesting to "shame" the mayor and draw the attention of international media.
"Emotions overran us and we didn't know what else to do," he said Wednesday afternoon.
Sekhon made the comments at a 1 p.m. news conference surrounded by city councillors Janet Davis, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Glenn De Baeremaeker. Sekhon, who spent much of the morning making media appearances outlining his plans to have cabbies block traffic on Friday, said he decided to back down when those three council members agreed to make clear public statements describing UberX as illegal.
"That's the kind of message we need to be sending out," he said.
Sekhon admitted he might have gone too far in some of his public statements.
"I'm a little hot-headed sometimes," he said. "I am very emotional. This is my industry. This is what I've done my whole life."
All three councillors came to the podium and said UberX is illegal and unsafe.
"If you love somebody, do not let them get into an UberX cab," said De Baeremaeker.
Taxi industry representatives did not rule out other protests after the NBA All-Star Weekend if the city doesn't take a tougher stance on Uber.
"The fact that we are calling off this demonstration today doesn't say what's going to happen in the future," said industry spokesperson Sam Moini.
Members of the city's hotel and restaurant associations appeared at the podium to express thanks to the cabbies for calling off the strike. They also expressed sympathy for the taxi drivers' plight.
Cabbies say they can't compete because UberX is unregulated while they require expensive licences to operate.
City staff are working to re-write taxi rules to include Uber but the new regulations won't go before council until April at the earliest.
In an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning today, Sekhon had said cabbies would be "blocking" traffic on Friday.
Mayor John Tory said later in the morning that any protest action would not speed up "by one minute" the process of getting new taxi rules in place.
Beck Taxi, one of the city's largest taxi operators, had said it didn't want its drivers to take part in the protest.