Thursday, June 20, 2024
Opinion/ColumnRide Hailing newsTaxi industry news

Toronto Council made the right decision: to put safety first, drivers need training

“When there is an elephant in the room, there is little room left for understanding, consensus or problem-solving.”

–Bill Crawford

There’s an elephant in the room every time Toronto discusses the vehicle for hire file, and it’s this: rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft need access to a constant, endless pool of amateur drivers because the average rideshare driver lasts less than six months in the job. Rideshare doesn’t just need drivers; it needs a big, deep pool of Redundant Drivers earning a pittance in order for its business model to function.

The hardships caused by “open entry” and an infinite pool of rideshare drivers  was the subject of a documentary film in spring, 2021, and the motivation for a protest by drivers at Uber’s Mississauga head office on September 28th, 2021.

For all its imperfections, the business model which underpins Toronto’s Taxi industry traditionally supported the concept of committed drivers who earn a living wage. Its ever-evolving Taxi model supported driver training, professional acumen, investment in plate ownership and vehicle maintenance. Fleet garages and shift drivers still exist, but Toronto decided it wanted to move away from that model and toward one of committed owner/operators 25 years ago, and it was doing so successfully (in 2014, about half of all Taxi plates were being driven by their owners).

In 2013, when it had about 5500 licensed Taxis, Toronto hired the international firm Taxi Research Partners to do an extensive, exhaustive research project on how many licensed Taxis the city needed to meet consumer demand within reasonable wait times. The report took a year to complete was 89 pages long. It concluded that Toronto needed about 5500 licensed Taxis.

In 2013, Toronto hired an international firm, Taxi Research Partners, to do a comprehensive review of its Taxi services and determined the city needed about 5500 licensed vehicles. In 2021, the city has over 50,000 vehicles for hire.

“It is our conclusion that, based on current passenger service levels, current numbers of taxis are appropriate to meet current demand,” Taxi Research Partners advised the City. “The Toronto market appears well served with low levels of variation in supply.” Toronto’s 5500 licensed Taxis required less than 15,000 drivers to meet consumer demand.  

The rideshare model regularly churns through tens of thousands of amateur drivers at an astonishingly high rate: the average driver survives less than six months before they decide to pack it in, fumigate their vehicle, and stop picking up strangers.

Any slowdown in new driver signups means fewer drivers available to immediately accept rides, which might lead impatient consumers to use a competing alternative like Taxi, TTC, or even walking. If the available pool of waiting, redundant rideshare drivers is not deep enough, this might also lead to price surges which encourage cost-conscious consumers to use a competing alternative like Taxi, TTC or even walking.

Rideshare’s constant signup machine has got to be going full-tilt, 24/7. Experts like The Rideshare Guy Harry Campbell spend as much time teaching how to get bonuses for referring new drivers as they do giving driving tips.

Therefore, rideshare’s very existence depends on having a constant supply of Redundant Drivers, poised ever-ready on the app, to provide the fastest, cheapest service.

However, rideshare’s aggressive recruitment of amateur drivers has caused at least one death in Toronto (and possibly more). On November 10th, Toronto Council including Mayor Tory voted to suspend the issuance of rideshare licenses until Licensing staff implement the vehicle for hire driver training program directed by Council in July, 2019.

During the unconscionable, 2.5 year delay in implementing the training program, Licensing and Standard’s Executive Director Carleton Grant told Councillors, about 40,000 rideshare licenses have been issued (and about 200 Taxi licenses).

Licensing staff have now proposed a system which will see all current rideshare drivers permitted to drive while the training program is designed and implemented over the next several months. However, staff know, industry members know, rideshare companies know, and voting politicians should know that without constant, aggressive, Ponzi-like recruiting of new drivers, the whole rideshare business model of “fast and cheap” will implode.  

In addition to the new training requirement, rideshare no longer has the advantage of selling the work as the same new, hip, fun, trendy package it did back in 2014. The cat has been let out of the bag: driving strangers is work, and vehicles cost money. Bummer.

To make matters exponentially worse, Uber’s shoddy treatment of its drivers has become legendary, so that even their experienced pros are leaving and warning new drivers away; the pool of Redundant Drivers shrinks even further. But that should be Uber’s problem, not Toronto’s.

Now, what Toronto needs is trained professional drivers. Council is to be commended for recognizing it was a mistake to abandon training, and fixing it now without any further delay.