Council sidestepped a loaded decision about ending city hall regulation of the number of taxi licences in London, punting the controversial proposal back to staff on Tuesday night.
Cap on taxi licences in London will stay
The direction to city staff? Talk to the taxi industry.
It’s the latest chapter in the never-ending saga over London’s bylaw governing taxis, limousines and private ride-hailing companies like Uber.
VEHICLE FOR HIRE BYLAW
Staff will bring a bylaw back to the community and protective services committee to finalize the following changes:
- lowered fees and a streamlined application process
- deregulating taxi fares over and above a minimum fare
- removing a requirement for in-cab cameras
- allowing taxi, limo and Uber vehicles to be up to 10 years old
- adding 10 new accessible cab licences
Though a controversial proposal to lift the cap that limits the number of taxi licences was narrowly defeated on a tie vote, council also directed staff to make other changes to the bylaw, including deregulating fares and removing the requirement for in-cab cameras.
“I don’t think that’s a fair thing for us to do overnight,” Coun. Phil Squire said of lifting the cap. But he addressed his next comment to the taxi owners watching from the public gallery.
“There is going to come a time when there is no cap on taxi licences. It’s going to happen. You should get ready for it.”
The delay is at least a temporary win for taxi plate owners, who invested big bucks – in some cases, more than $100,000 – in licences to operate cabs in London. Thousands of Uber drivers have since flooded the market, lowering the value of transferable taxi licences below $30,000.
Uber licences aren’t capped. And many taxi drivers want to have the same freedom to get a licence from city hall rather than leasing from a plate owner.
City hall bylaw boss Orest Katolyk told council on Tuesday that some now report those plates going for as little as $15,000 or $20,000.
Last week, plate owners threatened to sue city hall if the cap were lifted.
And a motion from Coun. Michael van Holst to look at compensating the taxi industry for that loss in value, which was defeated at Tuesday’s city council meeting, showed a flicker of a future battleground between the industry and city hall.
Right now, the city regulates the number of cabs on city streets, issuing one licence for every 1,100 Londoners.
Coun. Virginia Ridley, an advocate for ending municipal regulation in the taxi industry, proposed adding 19 new licences by changing the ratio to one licence for every 1,050 London residents. That amendment was also defeated 7-7.
Mayor Matt Brown and councillors Michael van Holst, Jesse Helmer, Maureen Cassidy, Ridley, Harold Usher and Jared Zaifman were in favour. Josh Morgan was absent, and all others were opposed.
As first reported by The London Free Press, Ridley faced an anonymous death threat after voicing her support for lifting that limit on taxi licences at a committee meeting this summer.
A letter sent to her home and city hall office warned she was “playing with fire” and suggested she’d be shot in the head unless she backed down from her stance. The taxi industry condemned the threat at city hall on Monday, pledging to work with police in hopes of finding the sender.
Ridley was frustrated at Tuesday’s debate, asking her colleagues what good more consultation with the taxi industry would do. City politicians gave city staff the same direction— to discuss with the industry— back in July.
“We are the ones prolonging this and trying to make it messier than it needs to be,” Ridley said.
But Coun. Mo Salih said more information was needed about how lifting the cap would impact the taxi industry, already gutted by the entrance of Uber. That’s what city staff were directed to gather in more talks with taxi drivers, owners, brokers and Uber.
“I don’t know what it means to release 19 plates tomorrow,” he said.