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Uber rescued municipalities from their own failure to understand supply and demand principles; Taxi paid the price

by Hans Wienhold

Excerpted from “Confessions of a Hamilton Cab Driver”

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“The Priority List”

Because of Hamilton’s restricted entry policy, taxi operator’s licenses had acquired a market value. Licenses were bought and sold. Some industry participants bought many of these licenses and either leased them out, or hired their own drivers.

Retired Hamilton cab driver and Professional Bullshit Detective Hans Wienhold

In order to portion these licenses out, the city maintained a Taxicab License Owner’s Priority List. As new licenses were issued, they would go to the person in the number one spot on that list, provided certain minimum conditions had been met. Those conditions included a minimum two years active engagement in the business immediately prior to license issuance in a “full-time” capacity. Full-time for drivers was defined as a minimum of two twelve-hour shifts per week.

Initially, anyone could sign that list. I signed the list in 1978. Twenty-eight years later, my name finally came up and I was issued plate number 406.

There was no fee to sign the list, nor was anyone required to be active in the business to sign it. As a result, everybody and his brother, uncle, mother-in-law, and grandchildren were  on that list. Some of the more prominent taxi industry names had their whole families on that list, and if their pets had been eligible, they would have been on the list too.

That wasn’t necessarily a problem. When it came down to the two-year run-up to plate issuance, almost none of these individuals were going to give up their law practices or whatever other enterprise they were engaged in to drive a fucking for less than minimum wage taxi for two years.

Things were a bit different for those more firmly established in the business. They always had the option of creating no-show “jobs” for family members. Note: I am not alleging that anyone actually did that.

The city had opened a Pandora’s Box when it initiated the restricted entry, equity licensing regime. By the time I entered the business, the city was trying to find a way of extricating itself from this system.

The main problem with extrication was that too many industry participants had invested their lives in the system the city had created. Thus, any move to eliminate the equity plate system was met with strong opposition from those who stood to lose everything they had worked for.

The city opted for a stealth approach.

One exception to the stealth approach occurred during a taxi meeting at City Hall sometime in the mid-1990s. I had an opportunity for a face-to-face conversation with Doug Rose, who was the city’s licensing manager at the time.

He told me flat out, “What we intend to do is issue so many taxi licenses that the market value of those licenses goes down to zero.”

While the drivers were not the explicit target of city shenanigans, they were the ones who would suffer most from them. City politicians damned well knew, or should have known that.

At a subsequent city call meeting, Mr. Rose was queried about the taxicab priority list. His response was, “We are whittling it down.”

As part of the “whittling down” process, the city started to introduce a series of new rules for the priority list.

For one thing, they closed the list. No new applicants could sign it. They also started charging $60 per year for signatories to remain on the list. That policy got rid of about 80% of the doctors and lawyers and anyone else who had signed the list, but were unlikely to perform the two years of sub-minimum wage work needed to qualify.

Then they changed the definition of “full-time” for drivers by increasing the number of hours of sitting in an idle cab from the original two twelve-hour shifts per week.

They resorted to other mischief as well. One stunt involved requiring plate owners to provide the vehicle and insurance as a package deal when leasing their plate.

As I best recall, the city reversed itself on this policy after Ejaz Butt threatened to park his taxi in front of City Hall and burn it.

A woman I knew who was on the list when the city first introduced the policy refused to pay the $60 to remain on the list because of it. Once it was too late for her to keep her name on the list, the policy was reversed.

And so it went with the City’s constant shifting and shafting of industry stakeholders over the years.

In the end, the Uber cab company came to the City’s rescue. By pretending to believe that Uber cabs were not cabs, the city had been able to accomplish the complete destruction of the equity plate system while blaming it all on Uber.

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Retired Taxi driver Hans Weinhold is listed in his biography as simultaneously a Welfare Recipient at Senior’s Welfare; Self-Employed; and also, a Climate Scientist at BS Detective Services. He has recently published “Confessions of a Hamilton Taxi Driver,” now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.