Friday, June 21, 2024
Opinion/Column

Toronto Accessible program “the worst public policy in the history of mankind”

Lack of Accessible Taxi delays wedding events, devastates family

Update September 15, 11:45am: Since this article was posted, charges against Neil Shorey and City Taxi have been withdrawn.

RWN/Taxi News publisher Rita Smith.

The failures in Toronto’s Accessible Taxi program are becoming too obvious to ignore for much longer.

Despite years of warnings in meetings and in print, from members of the disabled community and service providers in the Taxi industry, Toronto seems determined to studiously ignore the file until there are no more wheel-chair vans left on the road, and “on-demand accessible transportation” which had basically been achieved by 2016 is just a dim memory for those who relied on it.

On September 14th, CTV reported that the father of the bride at a weekend wedding was left stranded at the church when the pre-booked Accessible van failed to show up to transport him to the banquet hall. Family waited with him, frantically trying to locate another wheelchair accessible taxi while the bride delayed the wedding photography session.

This is a horrible scenario, the last think on Earth anyone in any service industry would want to see. My heart broke for bride, and her father, and her whole family: a precious wedding day ruined. I am so sorry for this family.

Unfortunately, it was completely predictable.

“The TTL program is the worst public policy in the history of mankind, and now there are almost no wheelchair accessible vans available, as the CTV article points out,” says Neil Shorey, Assistant General Manager at City Taxi.  

Shorey was recently personally ticketed for failure to provide an accessible van to a hospital call when no vans where available. This Kafka-esque turn of events now sees the service providers scrambling to provide available vans facing punishment by the City of Toronto if they fail to do so. This is not motivating positive change; it is motivating retirement, for Taxi drivers and brokerage staff.

Even the Accessible program designed and dropped by former Licensing chief Tracey Cook seems to have been designed to torture drivers, with promises of funding crumbs which are then arbitrarily denied.

When the Toronto Star picked up my Op-Ed on the looming failure of Toronto’s Accessible Taxi system in July 2022, I hoped it might catch the attention of officials motivated to review and improve the system:

“Now, in 2022, the last accessible vans purchased before Toronto shredded its social contract with taxi drivers are aging out, and many owners have no plan to reinvest. Already, riders are experiencing difficulties booking rides.”

On July 15, 2022, Canadian Taxi Association president Marc Andre Way issued an apology statement on the service gaps.

“We understand that some clients, and especially clients who require Accessible services, have recently endured stressful experiences including service delays. These unfortunate incidents should not occur, ever, and we are very sorry when they do. Please be assured, these regrettable incidents are the opposite of every single thing we strive for everyday in our businesses.

“Please recall that in 2015, 2016, and 2017, politicians chose to support businesses that make a mockery of the law and of customer service. Rideshare companies were rewarded for their law-breaking by being allowed to skim enormous amounts of the easiest money from the transportation market while providing ZERO accessible services.

“At that time, politicians made hasty choices on how Ridesharing would impact accessibility without seriously thinking of all members. These politicians created avoidable problem by not listening to those of us operating the services, or those with Accessible transportation needs. They were listening to Rideshare.

The Taxi industry has tried since then to fill the gap by service to the Accessible community, while obeying all bylaws and insurance laws. Meanwhile, ride sharing firms continue to have a free pass.

The stressful situations we now deal with on a daily basis were completely predictable; in fact, we predicted this, to everyone who would listen, in 2016.”

Toronto has been surprised to discover that Taxi operators no longer want to invest $85,000 of their own money to put a wheel-chair accessible van on the road with commercial insurance. Now, it is considering mandating fully-electric vehicles for the Taxi industry, despite warnings that lack of insurance, horrendously expensive repairs and maintenance, and the noticeable lack of an energy grid to charge these vehicles are likely to prohibit most owners from investing in electric Taxis, accessible or not.

“The Taxi brokerages have less money coming in from dues-paying drivers every month because Toronto’s Vehicle for Hire by-laws and the almost-impossible to get Taxi insurance has resulted in less than 2,000 cabs on the streets, down from 5,500. Sadly, brokerages have had to go to overseas call centres because they can’t afford to pay their staff. The result is a poor Taxi experience for the customer from the time they try to order a Taxi until they left with an ill-trained driver and an unsealed meter. The MLS has set the Taxi industry up to fail.”

The losers here won’t just be the Taxi drivers, or the Taxi companies, or the City of Toronto. The losers here will be the residents who need transportation and cannot get it, on-demand or otherwise. The wait list for publicly provided transportation will get longer, and taxpayers will foot the bill.

It might not be “the worst public policy in the history of mankind,” but it’s got to be close. There has to be a better way. Is Toronto looking for one?