As part of its review of the taxi business, city hall is hiring a consultant to estimate how many cabs the city needs.
Decrepit taxi cabs and surly drivers prompted the city to usher in reforms a dozen years ago that introduced owner-operated Ambassador cabs aimed at improving service to the public.
However, faced with a rising chorus of complaints from drivers that they work long hours for little money, the city is conducting a new review to be completed by next spring.
On Friday, council’s licensing and standards committee endorsed hiring a consultant to explore the thorny subject of how many cabs the city really needs. Here’s a primer on Toronto’s taxi industry:
The Customers: The city estimates 60,000 people take cabs daily and at an average $25 fare pump $1.5 million into the business. Based on customer interviews and mystery rides by researchers posing as riders, cabs generally arrived within 10 minutes, were clean and well-maintained, and had knowledgeable drivers.
The Drivers: Toronto has more than 10,000 licensed taxi drivers for 4,849 cabs. Regular drivers get a 17-day training course, with a three-day refresher course every four years. Ambassador drivers, who own their car and can’t let anyone else drive it, receive 40 days of training.
The Cars: The average Toronto taxi travels 100,000 kilometres per year, some as many as 250,000 kilometres annually. Most cabs cannot operate longer than five years.
The Licences: There are two types of licences, also known as plates: Standard and Ambassador.
There are 3,451 Standard plates. A plate owner can drive and also rent out the cab or hand it to an agent to manage. The vehicle can be operated 24/7. Plates can be sold, and the current market value is up to $300,000.
There are 1,313 Ambassador plates. The cab must be operated by the owner, up to 12 hours a day. No other drivers are allowed. The plate cannot be sold and must be returned if the owner quits the business. As well, there are 85 accessible taxi plates that also can’t be sold.
The Issues: Among the items the review must tackle is the question of how many cars and drivers are needed.
Toronto has more taxis per person than Vancouver, Ottawa and Los Angeles, but fewer cars per person than Montreal, Chicago and London, England.
According to models cited in a staff report, Toronto needs more standard taxis, anywhere from 300 to 1,300 more. Researchers say the fact standard plate prices have steadily risen to the $300,000 mark shows there’s a shortage.
One option, rather than trying to pick the right number, is to remove the cap and let the market decide. But that can have negative repercussions, such as drivers refusing short trips, discourteous treatment of passengers, and declining driver income.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, an author of the original reforms, believes Toronto has too many drivers. The resulting high demand for cars boosts lease rates and the sale value of each plate, he thinks.
“All these drivers are chasing a fixed amount of work. The more drivers, the more competition there is, the more plate owners can charge to lease their plates. It’s the number of drivers that’s behind the increase in plate value.”
Having said that, Minnan-Wong noted it would be politically difficult to cut off the driver’s list. After all, doing so would affect livelihoods.
“It’s a really thorny problem. But it (too many drivers) is one of the single biggest problems with the industry.”
The Fares: Passengers are charged $4.25, known as the drop, plus 25 cents for each 0.143 kilometres of travel. The city sets fares based on such factors as fuel prices, labour rates and plate leasing costs. Since 2003, the fare for an 8-kilometre trip has increased by 67 per cent. The fares are 40 per cent more expensive than Chicago and 25 per cent costlier than Houston.