Monday, July 15, 2024
Over 100 participants were on on the June 12 Vehicle for Hire consultation online meeting. Image: Webex
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First VHF consultation focuses on Accessible service

Zero available vehicles, open entry damage not mentioned

Toronto staff floated the idea of providing an upfront $20,000 grant to Taxi drivers who will purchase an Accessible vehicle during last night’s Vehicle for Hire (VFH) consultation.

Surprisingly, two disruptive factors concerning  Accessible service in Toronto were not mentioned during the virtual meeting. First, the fact that there are no approved vehicles available for purchase and conversion for this model year (and likely the next).

Second, the fact that allowing open entry to Uber and Lyft in 2016 decimated the revenue streams of Accessible drivers, forcing many of the working Taxi drivers out of business. As of January 1st 2025, 100 per cent of Toronto’s Accessible Taxis will have aged out of service and few operators can afford to purchase new vans. Toronto was warned of this reality years ago.

Participants on the June 12th consultation session asked why the situation had been allowed to go so long without discussion, and why Accessible Taxi service had not been identified for its own dedicated report and plan months or years ago.

“You are really waiting for the eleventh hour to address this,” one caller noted irately.

Another idea for discussion is having Toronto run one centralized dispatch for all Accessible Taxis, independent of brokerage.

“We suggested that a decade ago,” notes Kristine Hubbard, Operations Manager at Beck Taxi. As to the $20,000 grant, Hubbard points out “Which means they are sitting on that much of everyone’s money.”

Hubbard is referring to the Accessibility Fund, which collects per-trip fees from the Vehicle for Hire  licensees themselves to distribute to drivers that provide the service.  Last year, Toronto collected $4,600,000 but distributed only $1,200,000 of it to drivers.

“Why isn’t there a dedicated consultation to Accessiblilty?” asked speaker Peter Athanasopoulos of Spinal Cord Injury Ontario.

Peter Athanasopoulos of Spinal Cord Injury Ontario. Photo: LinkedIn

“The system is completely broken, and there needs to be a focus on Accessibility. We have been involved in vehicle for hire bylaws for several decades, and there seems to be never a critical focus on Accessible vehicle for hire services.

“Just listening to the City presentations, I can see so many holes and gaps into what was presented. I think saying people are waiting over 20 minutes is really polite, because people have been waiting hours, if they are not stranded, and cannot get a ride at all.

“Three months ago we hosted a conference, where several people were stranded at couldn’t get to the airport to even go home.”

“We do know that overall there are gaps in service, that’s why we’re holding these consultations,” replied Toronto’s  Policy Development Planner Josh Cho, who co-hosted the meeting.

The June 12th meeting, organized by Gladki Planning Associates, was the first of five open stakeholder consultations which will be held in June. The schedule of upcoming meetings is posted to Toronto’s website. During last night’s session, Gladski noted that private meetings are also being held by direct invitation.