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Toronto's taxi debate points to issues far bigger than Uber

Supporters of Toronto's taxi industry, wearing yellow shirts bearing slogans including
Supporters of Toronto's taxi industry, wearing yellow shirts bearing slogans including “Support legal taxis” and “No 2-tier system”, watch a council debate at city hall on Wednesday.

As Toronto city councillors last week talked their way toward their vote to legalize Uber – and companies like Uber – as a transportation provider in the city, the most notable thing for me about the debate was that a bunch of important social and economic issues kept cropping up.

In between the usual droning on about insurance requirements and surge pricing, some anti-Uber councillors gave speeches acknowledging the trouble with income inequality, where owners make a mint while those doing the work struggle to get by in an increasingly expensive city.

Some touched on the barriers faced by immigrants – especially non-white immigrants – when it comes to finding opportunities and escaping the crush of poverty.

And some even talked a bit about the new reality of precarious employment, where the conversion of full-time jobs into part-time gigs has left millennials feeling doomed to a life of basement apartments and hustling for tiny bits of cash doled out via the “sharing economy.”

On one hand, it was good to see this stuff come up in a formal council debate. These issues are some of the biggest and thorniest facing our city. City hall doesn’t talk about them enough.

On the other hand, it was pretty damn frustrating.

The frustration came because it shouldn’t take controversy over a narrow set of industry reforms to get people to pay attention to the socioeconomic realities facing Toronto.

According to figures laid out in the city’s poverty reduction strategy, in Toronto one of every four children and one of every five adults live in poverty. A full one-third of people in racialized groups are below the poverty line. The same goes for just under half the population of recent immigrants.

Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate is a mighty 22 per cent, according to recent reports.

These are numbers that cry out for way more than political lip service during a debate about taxi reforms. But action is fleeting – generally keeping property taxes below inflation rates higher with city council than funding anti-poverty measures.

I won’t put all the blame on city hall. For years, federal and provincial governments have turned away from taking real action on poverty. They’ve left municipal governments to use their very limited resources to cobble together strategies.

But spreading the blame around doesn’t do anything to help the people in the city living without resources, without supports and without opportunity. Some of those people are cab drivers. Some of them are even Uber drivers. Most of them have nothing to do with the taxi industry at all.

It’s important to remember that. City hall may have resolved the Uber debate, but there is so much left to fix.

This post was originally published at on 2016-05-09T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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