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Idea of broader look at Toronto taxi regulation shot down by council Add to …

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/idea-of-broader-look-at-toronto-taxi-regulation-shot-down-by-council/article23784108/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/idea-of-broader-look-at-toronto-taxi-regulation-shot-down-by-council/article23784108/

The Globe and Mail 

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s attempt to have the city take a broad look at taxi regulation was shot down by council on Thursday, leaving the controversial issue to advance piecemeal in the coming months.

The councillors leading the opposition to Mr. Minnan-Wong are members of a city hall committee that is trying to wash away some of the most bitterly debated changes of previous rounds of taxi reforms.

Also looming in the background is the status of the ride-sharing app Uber. The city has gone to court to try to shut the service down in Toronto, and police recently cracked down on UberX drivers. But Uber retains a loyal following in the city, including in the mayor’s office.

Mr. Minnan-Wong said he had intended to include Uber when he brought up the issue on Thursday, but changed his mind because opponents were raising fears that his request could lead to official approval for the controversial service. But he warned that none of the issues are going away.

“Over this next year of council meetings … it’s going to be all taxi issues all the time,” the deputy mayor said after the 24-17 vote against his proposal.

“We’re going to be spending a disproportionate time dealing with the matter. You know, the licencing committee wants to go back into the dark ages of taxis. We’re going to be dealing with all their rather destructive, in my view, destructive reforms [that] are going to come up to council for debate instead of just dealing with it once.”

Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and Jim Karygiannis were among his jubilant opponents. They are strong backers of the taxi industry and argued that the proposal was a way to do an end-run around the Licencing and Standards Committee.

Both men sit on the committee, which voted last month to ask for staff reports on rolling back reforms, some dating to 1998, including restrictions on the transfer of taxi licences. That committee is to debate the issue again later this month, and its decision will eventually reach full city council.

“There [are] committee members that are doing diligent work, and for the deputy mayor to come around the corner and [table] this, when we heard from the industry, when we continue to hear from the industry, it just shows total disrespect,” Mr. Karygiannis said.

Hundreds of people from the industry showed up for the debate on Thursday. It was a show of force that occasionally went too far. The speaker threatened to clear the chamber at one point, after a remark from Mr. Minnan-Wong that the current system shortchanges drivers economically sparked a blast of heckling and boos.

Taxi licencing has long been one of the thorniest issues facing city council. In 1998, the city tried to improve the situation for drivers by introducing a so-called Ambassador plate, which allowed drivers to own and operate their own taxis as independent businesses rather than forcing them to work for a large company. But some drivers complained because these plates could not be sold.

Last year, council tried to move toward a system that would eventually replace the Ambassador and standard plates. It set a deadline of 2024 for conversion to the new plate, a date that was struck down in court.

The rest of the reforms remain intact, and the city solicitor said during the debate on Thursday that nothing prevents Toronto from instituting a new deadline with proper consultation. Part of Mr. Minnan Wong’s proposal sought staff input on consultation for a mandatory deadline to convert to the new plate.

After it was voted down, council approved staff recommendations related to the court ruling. Some are confidential, but those that were released late Thursday ruled out an appeal of the decision.