Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto’s taxi licensing system is flagrantly unfair — but we can fix it

By: Metro Published on Mon May 11 2015

In a world without bureaucratic baggage, city hall lobbyists and entrenched financial interests, reforming Toronto’s taxicab licensing system would be pretty easy.

Ideally, the system would be simple. If you wanted to be a cab driver, first you’d need a car that meets safety specifications. (Accessibility specifications, too — let’s not be exclusionary.)

Then, after a stringent check that determines you’re neither an axe murderer nor a tremendously terrible driver, you’d buy yourself a shiny taxi license from city hall.

And that’s it. As long as you kept your licence current, your vehicle in good working order and didn’t prove yourself to be a dangerous jerk, you’d get to drive.

Unfortunately, that kind of simple solution has proven hard to find at city hall. So hard, in fact, that Toronto politicians have been discussing taxi reforms for four years straight without reaching a final conclusion.

But they shouldn’t give up, because the fundamental truth about Toronto’s taxi licensing status quo is that it’s flagrantly unfair.

As it stands, Toronto maintains a two-tiered licensing system. Some licensees — those with Ambassador plates — operate under conditions similar to the ideal scenario. Drivers own and operate their own cabs.

But then there are those with so-called standard plates, who face far fewer restrictions. There are a limited number of these plates available. Plate holders aren’t required to drive their own cabs, and they can be leased out or transferred. As a result, these plates became absurdly valuable. In 2014, city data obtained by Metro showed 117 people had ponied up more than $250,000 just to get a standard plate.

Last term, Toronto City Council came close to reaching a satisfactory solution on this issue by implementing a single type of taxi licence. But in recent months, some of the same politicians who once urged reform are now pushing to abandon it.

Mayor John Tory, to his credit, fired back against the defenders of the status quo last week during yet another Toronto City Council debate on the subject.

Many of the mayor’s comments on the subject of taxi reform have been too focused on the ride-sharing service Uber — he successfully passed a motion to delay any decision on taxi reform until after a judge rules on Uber’s legality in Toronto. However, his thoughts on fairness struck a chord with me.

“If I have a bugbear,” Tory told council, “it’s the middlemen in this industry that suck money from people who are trying to earn a living, who add no value to anything.”

I’ll agree with him on that. More than this taxi reform debate is about Uber or any other technology, it’s about fairness. And fairness is worth driving for.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-05-11T00:00:00.000Z

About the author

Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
Website / Twitter / Email Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott


Follow Me on Twitter

Recent Posts

Recent Comments