The next taxi showdown? Politicians entertain lifting cap

Politicians and taxi drivers are bracing for a showdown over a controversial proposal to lift the cap that controls the number of taxis in London — a major revision to the city's taxibylaw that comesshortly after a long and bitter feud to regulate Uber.

Politicians and taxi drivers are bracing for a showdown over a controversial proposal to lift the cap that controls the number of taxis in London — a major revision to the city’s taxibylaw that comesshortly after a long and bitter feud to regulate Uber.

But some taxi drivers that were incensed over city hall’s welcome of Uber are perking up over other potential changes for the industry, including lower fees, more fare freedom, and the reversal of a hotly contested requirement that compels cabs — but not Ubers — to outfit vehicles with security cameras.

Those and other changes are on the table as politicians re-open debate on London’s vehicle for hire bylaw, which regulates taxis, limos and what’s called “transportation network companies,” like Uber and Lyft.

Those changes will be debated at a public meeting on Tuesday.

And it’s bound to be feisty.

“It’s going to be a difficult issue. All the discussions around the private vehicle for hire bylaw are difficult ones,” Coun. Jesse Helmer said.

Undoubtedly, removing the cap on taxis — now limited to one vehicle for every 1,100 Londoners — will be the hot-button issue.

“We’ve had discussions with the industry, drivers, brokers and owners. Really, there’s no unified position on this,” city bylaw enforcement chief Orest Katolyk said.

It’s likely a positive move for many drivers who pay to lease taxi plates from those who own them.

“Thesituation nowis essentially driving up the costs for people who want to drive (taxis), and I’m not sure that’s fair,” Helmer said.

When the industry was tightly controlled, and before 3,000 Uber drivers entered the scene, the street value of a plate was reported to be well over $100,000. Now drivers say they’re worth closer to $30,000.

Naturally, blowing the lid off the vehicle limit is a huge threat to owners who make their money off those plates. If anyone can drive a cab, plates will be worth next to nothing.

But there’s another cap that could be lifted — a rule that limits the number of accessible taxis on the road. Right now, it’s one for every 18 standard cabs. City staff have suggested removing that lid to address service issues.

Because picking up customers with mobility devices or other accessibility needs takes more time and effort, but isn’t necessarily more profitable, some drivers avoid it, Katolyk said. That creates problems for customers, often left waiting for hours for accessible vehicles.

Taxi driver Fateh Bander, right, with driver Samal Tabidi (Free Press file photo)

Green Taxi co-owner and driver Fateh Bander said complaints about accessible cabs are off the charts.

“The wait times, the service, all kinds of stuff. We put these disabled people in a corner,” Bander said of the inconsistent taxi service for those with accessibility needs.

“When it comes to the public needs, we have to stand up. We have to talk loudly. If they take (off) the cap, it’s going to be supply and demand,” Bander added, also cheering the other tentative bylaw changes around fees and cameras outlined by city staff in a draft going to city politicians next week.

Staff suggested a series of public meetings, discussing fees and other smaller administrative issues separately and hosting another to debate the contentious cap on vehicles. But council voted to bash all those topics together in hopes of coming to a decision before the end of the council term.

The public meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Centennial Hall.

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