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City report calls for accessible taxis, payment up front

A city report released on Thursday calls for sweeping changes to the taxi industry, including a new type of licence, making all cars accessible and allowing for payment up front.

After dozens of meetings with the public and the industry, the Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) department came up with 40 recommendations aimed at making driving and riding in a taxi more accessible, affordable, safe and fair.

One of the biggest changes is the voluntary Toronto Taxicab Licence (TTL), which continues the industry’s move toward owner-operators.

“What we found when we went to an owner-operator model [in 1998] is that instead of having absentee owners that were living in Florida cutting coupons just taking money away from hard-working drivers, the drivers are behind the wheel,” said Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong.

“They’re owning their own business; they take pride in ownership; they take pride in their vehicle; and they take pride in their business — and that has to be good for the taxi-[riding] public.”

To hold a TTL, the owner must drive; he or she must drive at least 167 hours a month; and the vehicle must be wheelchair-accessible. The licence allows up to three additional drivers and can be transferred or sold.

Under the proposed system, when cabbies give up their current licences or when businesses with licences close down, the city would issue TTLs to replace them.

Another idea the city wants to try out is to allow drivers to demand payment (up to $25) up front and charge passengers who soil their cabs.

“I would leave it to the driver to decide by looking at an individual,” Minnan-Wong said. They’re driving these cars day in and day out and I think that they can suss out who are the customers who might be a flight risk.

“It’s really disappointing if they have a $40 fare for example and someone just jumps out of the car and runs.”

Minnan-Wong denied the move could lead to profiling or discrimination against passengers, but MLS executive director Tracey Cook said if the city gets complaints, it will investigate. The department also plans to reevaluate the measure in two years.

Other plans included in the report include pilot projects for taxi stands in front of fire hydrants and designated spots for hailing cabs.

The report will go to the Licensing and Standards Committee on Jan. 23 and will be debated in council on Feb. 19.