Thursday, June 20, 2024
Legalizing rideshare permitted more than 80,000 additional vehicles to cruise Toronto's already-gridlocked streets.
Opinion/ColumnRide Hailing newsTaxi industry news

Can Chow’s real numbers shatter the spell cast by John Tory’s magic words?

No matter which figure you use, 50,000 or 80,000 cruising cars is a lot more than 5,500 Taxis

RWN/Taxi News publisher Rita Smith.


An astonishing thing happened at Toronto’s October 11th City Council Meeting.

While considering mandating electric Taxis and Ubers in order to reduce emissions and congestion, councillors appeared to be awakening from a trance. Stammering, blinking, speaking in tones of surprise, elected officials appeared shocked to discover that they had voted to allow tens of thousands of additional vehicles for hire to cruise Toronto’s streets since 2016.

“53,000 additional vehicles? Fifty-three thousand?” councillors repeated in wonder.

For context, in 2013 Toronto hired Transport Research Services of Austin, Texas to do an objective assessment of how many Taxis the City of Toronto required to deliver acceptable levels of service to citizens. After a year of study, Transport Research Services came back with the answer: 5,500 Taxis.

(The 53,000 number being used on October 11 is actually significantly less than the number provided to Taxi News by the City of Toronto on April 17, 2023. Figures provided at that time were 6,710 taxicabs and limousines and 79,537 rideshare drivers currently licensed in Toronto, for a total of 86,247 vehicles.)

In addition to multiplying the number of for-hire vehicles by more than a factor of ten, Councillors appeared mystified by other aspects of the October 11 debate, as well.

For example, the very fact that Toronto staff who get paid to know how many licensed vehicles for hire are cruising the streets, do not know how many are cruising the streets. Isn’t there a computer somewhere at City Hall which keeps track of how many licenses have been issued?

Or that, as Mayor Olivia Chow pointed out, reports requested by Council could regularly be delivered years late. “Maybe it was COVID?” she mused, somewhat facetiously.

The idea that Toronto legalized Uber and Lyft in 2016, allowed open entry to the market and opened the floodgates to 80,000 rideshare vehicles must seem to a Council hoping to reduce emissions and congestion some kind of inexplicable insanity.

It was insane.

Like doomsday cult members waiting for the end of the world, or Marxists waiting for socialism to create prosperity, most Toronto councillors seemed to sincerely believe their fearless leader John Tory when he told them that removing the limits on for-hire vehicles would improve the quality of life for every Toronto resident.

Tory’s machine-gun spray speaking style – somewhere between a carnival barker and a used car salesman on amphetamines – was almost impossible to penetrate with reason. Once he got rolling, there was virtually no stopping him as he blathered about technology and competition and innovation. Never once did he utter the phrase, “Let’s allow 86,000 vehicles to cruise the streets.”

Hypnotised by Tory’s magic words, previous Councils were too intimidated or overwhelmed by his hocus-pocus to point out obvious flaws in his sales pitch for Uber. The ones who tried were shunned and ostracized.

As an observer, this was as fascinating to watch as it was disheartening. Does ANYONE remember why Toronto limited entry to the Taxi market in the first place? Does anyone grasp why fare rates were set and meters sealed? Why is the city re-inventing the wheel when it had already debated and resolved the major issues in the Taxi industry decades ago?

Brand-new Councillor and Economic Development Chair Alejandro Bravo asked several of the obvious questions Tory-era councillors never did. Photo: YouTube

So, watching brand-new Councillor Alejandro Bravo chair the Economic Development Committee meeting on September 21st was a thrilling change. It did not appear that she had been briefed by staff before the meeting on the fact that while in 2016 Toronto had 5,500 Taxi operators driving low-emissions vehicles, in 2023 Toronto has 86,000 vehicles for hire drivers operating just about anything they want.

A blinding flash of the glaringly obvious would prompt any intelligent human being to say: “Gee, instead of mandating 100 per cent electric to 86,000 drivers already earning marginal incomes, maybe we should first work on just reducing the actual number of vehicles cruising downtown Toronto?”

“OK, clearly there are lots of questions and we need a plan here,” Bravo summarized in one of the best understatements of all time. Not being subject to Tory’s hocus-pocus, she was capable of stating the obvious.

In her closing remarks, Mayor Olivia Chow noted “33 per cent of the greenhouse gas emission in Toronto is caused by transportation. When you have 53,000 drivers, plus 7000 taxis, it matters.

“13 per cent of the congestion in downtown Toronto is caused by vehicles for hire. 49 per cent of riders, we’ve taken from public transit.”

Chow’s short, pithy statement of relevant statistics has the potential to break the spell John Tory cast on Toronto. His magic words, like “innovation” and “technology,” seemed to put Council in such a trance they could not use their own minds or common sense to see reality: discussing emissions or congestion while encouraging 86,000 vehicles to cruise Toronto is lunacy.

Please, bring on reformation and rationality.

Mayor Olivia Chow sparred with MLS Director Carlton Grant at the October 11 Council meeting. Questions involving numbers and statistics instead of hocus pocus and magic words have been sorely lacking in recent years.