Toronto’s executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards was the focus of numerous japes at City Hall on Thursday, as council held its first public debate on new taxi and ride-sharing regulations announced last week.
“Whoever wrote this report needs to go check themselves out,” said Taxi Action chairman Behrouz Khamseh, after suggesting Tracey Cook has bi-polar disorder. It was not the first comment prompting councillor Josh Matlow to demand chair Cesar Palacio run a better meeting.
Another deputant apologized for a slip up during their speech, but pointing out afterwards that “as Tracey Cook says, you don’t need English anymore”.
Over 100 members of the public signed up to speak at the meeting, explaining their stance on the regulation situation before fielding questions from the committee. Council heard from four deputants – all Uber supporters – before breaking for lunch.
Tracy Schmitt was born a four-way amputee, and she relies on services like UberWAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle) and Uber Assist, whose flexibility and timeliness allow her to work and go on “spontaneous dates”.
She thanked the city for it’s wheelchair accessible taxis, but said the Wheel-Trans service is “such a stretched service,” going on to describe the process of calling 24 hours in advance to book a vehicle.
Schmitt – who has done consulting work but is not an official spokesperson for the company – says she also feels safer with Uber drivers. This was met with jeers from the audience, largely made up of supporters of the taxi industry. Schmitt added that cab drivers always ask what happened to her, because of her disability.
“It’s inappropriate. It’s like asking someone why they are divorced.”
Councillor Jim Karygiannis asked the day’s first speaker and Uber supporter, Luke Anderson, if he’d feel more comfortable in a car that’s been checked twice a year by a city official, or in a car that’s checked once a year by someone who “just signed up” in a “back alley”.
Anderson stammered for a few moments, before asking if he had to answer the question.
Karygiannis said yes, but the chair later clarified that deputants are not witnesses and were therefore not required to answer questions they aren’t comfortable answering.
The heated conversation comes after city staff unveiled a much-anticipated list of over 100 recommendations to ease tensions between Uber and taxi drivers.
The list suggests different sets of rules for both taxis and vehicle-for-hire services, including background checks for Uber drivers and allowing taxis to offer discounts to people who use phone or internet apps to get a cab.