Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Gurjeet Dhillon, Vice President of Scarborough City Cabs and Toronto One Taxi. Photo: YouTube
Democracy & GovernmentOpinion/ColumnRide Hailing newsTaxi industry news

Councillors don’t have one single question

Decades of industry experience goes to waste at meeting

RWN/Taxi News publisher Rita Smith

As human beings go, Gurjeet Dhillon is a pretty easy one to be around.

She has a lovely face and a warm, friendly voice. I have always found her to be gracious and kind, in addition to being smart and articulate.

The Taxi industry is fortunate that Gurjeet has dedicated 30 years of her life to serving professional drivers and residents who need transportation and care. Every level of government has benefited by collecting income taxes, corporate taxes, payroll taxes, carbon taxes and the harmonized sales tax from Scarborough City Cab and Toronto One Taxi, her family’s businesses. On top of all the taxes, of course, are the industry-specific fees, license charges and transfer costs which have been paid to Toronto over the decades.

Scarborough City Cab celebrated its 30th Anniversary on January 27th, offering food, music, dancing and celebration to the hundreds of families for whom they have provided employment over the decades.

Scarborough City isn’t just any Taxi company – as a supplier to Wheel-Trans, it provides drivers trained at the highest levels, all cleared by Toronto Police to work with vulnerable persons.

Gurjeet Dhillon (centre) surrounded by some of the hundreds of ground transportation professionals who have been part of Scarborough City Cabs over the past 30 years. Photo: SCC

Gurjeet knows a thing or two about running a effective business; about human resources and human relations; about road safety, about revenue generation, about Taxi numbers and Toronto neighbourhoods.

You’d think that the Mayor and Councillors, now grappling with the tough question of whether Toronto needs 5,500 ground transportation vehicles or 55,000, might want to ask Gurjeet Dhillon a question. Or two. Or ten.

But, nope. There she was, sitting in the Deputant’s seat at the February 29th Executive Committee meeting, just bursting with life experience, business acumen, statistics, figures, useful information of every kind for a City trying to find a system that works. What was Toronto doing in 1990? 2000? 2010? Gurjeet could have told them.

What worked and didn’t work in Toronto? Gurjeet could have told them. So could several of the other Taxi industry deputants.

What kinds of regulations are working in other jurisdictions, like New York? Gurjeet would have been happy to explain.

But instead of asking one single question of ANY of the Taxi industry members who provided deputations, Councillors averted their eyes, checked their phones, shuffled their papers and otherwise fiddled each time Mayor Chow asked the dread question, “Does anyone have a question of the Deputant?”

In each case, as the Deputant rose to leave, the relief among the Councillors was palpable. God forbid they should ask a question of a lifetime industry member who might actually provide an answer. Does Toronto need 5,500 vehicles cruising the streets, or 55,000, or maybe even a completely unlimited number? Does Toronto need 555,000 ground transportation vehicles? Who knows? Math is hard.

Now Toronto is back to the more comfortable system of asking staff to research the situation and report back…in November, 2024. Maybe staff will even need to pay consultants to tell Toronto, again, how many ground transportation vehicles it needs (spoiler: it’s 5,500, according to the last consultant’s report Toronto paid for).

As Deputant Behrouz Khamseh pointed out, many of these very Councillors were the ones who voted enthusiastically in 2016 to remove the cap on the number of licensed vehicles when Uber arrived. The same Councillors that decided open entry for an unlimited number of vehicles was the best thing for Toronto eight years ago – demolishing the industry and casting thousands of drivers into poverty – are now going to design a brand new system.

And they don’t have a single question for the generations of people who have spent decades delivering millions of rides.

The following is a transcript of Gurjeet Dhillon’s deputation to Executive Committee February 29th, 2024.

“Good morning. Thank you, Mayor Chow, and executive committee members.

I appreciate you listening to me this morning. My name is Gurjeet Dillon. I’m the Vice President for Toronto One Taxi and Scarborough City Cab.

We’ve been operating in the city of Toronto for over 30 years, and we’ve participated in a lot of industry consultations. Over those years, there are many stakeholders. And it’s a really complex system.

So, we really appreciate you continuing to listen and to  hear from all these stakeholders, to make an informed decision.

Over the years, City staff has worked alongside the industry to implement ideas and processes to ensure safety of the riders, and the livelihood for drivers.

So unfortunately, removal of most of those safeguards, and major changes have basically demolished  the industry and negatively impacted many hardworking individuals, as you are hearing today.

The results have been disastrous, which is why you’re hearing from so many PTC drivers who are struggling to make a living. I want to take this opportunity to draw your attention to what has worked in the taxicab industry, and why it is important to have reasonable and realistic number of how many vehicles should be available for hire, so the riders get good service and drivers can make a living.

The open entry approach was always frought with concerns which were voiced at the very beginning. Yes, having the freedom and the flexibility to work is an essential component of this industry. But it’s doesn’t mean a free for all. And to illustrate, I want to share a couple of examples.

Firstly, balancing the number of vehicles with the amount of overall potential revenue is essential for us as a taxicab brokerage, of course, we would love to add more cars to our company, since that is our primary source of revenue, the monthly fees brokerage fees that we charge to the drivers is our primary source of income as a brokerage. Because 100% of the fares do go to the drivers, so it would be excellent for us to, you know, keep adding more cars.

But on the other hand, to keep our brokerage members happy and staying with us, they must make sufficient income. So, we cannot dilute the revenue potential by adding more vehicles. So, as an organization, we know that we have to make sure our vehicles are earning a sufficient living. And this is our work: we are committed to that. This is a reason we have been in this industry for over 30 years. We have drivers who have been with us for that long as well.

Then on the other hand, secondly, drivers making a good living is essential for providing good service. So, you know, this is something that even the TTC recognizes, which is why for the accessible services contract that we operate, Wheel Trans mandates to us how much we must pay the driver. So that’s part of that process. The city has done the same thing with the taxicab drivers by implementing the taxi meter, which is set by the city. It reflects that what they get paid based on the distance and the traffic patterns and so forth.

So, that’s something that we already know that works and is necessary. I want to suggest that, you know, this industry is not perfect.

But there are many things that are working. And because of that, we like the regulations in the industry in the taxicab industry over the years. We’re set up based on real life situations that the staff heard counselors heard and implemented those regulations to protect riders to support drivers.

There’s still more work to be done around that. But we don’t want to the overall impact of removing those regulations or getting rid of all of those ideas that were implemented. It is what we’re noticing now is the is the fallout that we’re seeing on the ground now.

It really is important to go back to those basics that we all know, work and to set up certain limitations, the formulas are there in terms of how do you decide how many vehicles should be on the road, taxi cabs have always been capped, there has been a limit to the number of vehicles that are licensed as taxi cabs. And that formula was something that staff had worked on, and it had operated, but we understand that it is now time to take those basics and fundamentals and incorporate those and update them in the new world that we’re living in with what changes in population with changes in the requirements of the city. It’s time to update those systems, not remove them.

I appreciate you taking the time to listen. And we do hope that as  the report comes in, in Q4, 2024, the research has been done. You’ve heard a lot from every all the stakeholders, and that you will be able to make an informed decision and set up the industry for sustainability and success and all the individuals that are part of it, the taxicab drivers and all of the stakeholders involved.

Thank you for taking the time.”