Shutting down City-run vehicle inspections sure to prove a big mistake, warn critics
by Mike Beggs
Of all the questionable regulatory changes by the City of Toronto in its unswerving determination to license Uber X, the sudden closure of the long-running Vehicle Inspection Centre at 843 Eastern Avenue ranks among the most objectionable of all, according to licensed taxi operators.
According to an Important Notice To All Taxicab Owners released by
Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards on December 9, “As of December 31, 2016, you are no longer required to submit your vehicle for inspection by staff at 843 Eastern Avenue, however a mechanical
Safety Standards Certificate (SSC) must be submitted to the Licensing
Services office at the East York Civic Centre.”
The MLS specifies that, “Safety Standards Certificates are only valid when issued by a Motor Vehicle Inspection Station (MVIS) garage operation licensed by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, and cannot be more than 36 days old at the time of submission.”
Requirements regarding the mandatory submission of SSC’s will be posted on the MLS web site in the new year at www.toronto.ca/vehicle inspections.
Rundown taxis were a sore point for many years, before the City imposed its semi-annual inspections at the Eastern Avenue facility, some two decades back. And now industry leaders fear this will devolve into “a race to the bottom” with Uber X operators, with the return to the requirement of just a Safety Standards Certificate from any licensed garage.
“They are turning back the clock,” complains Beck Taxi operations manager Kristine Hubbard. “History is repeating itself. We’ve been there before. There used to be Safety Standards Certificates, and they weren’t good enough. (The MLS) found some that were photocopied, and others that were fake.”
“Absolutely (it’s a race to the bottom),” agrees Taxi Workers Association president Sajid Mughal. “What they’re aiming for is, by lowering the quality of taxi service, to accommodate Private Transportation Companies. Those politicians making all these bylaws over the last 30 or 40 years, they were all crazy?”
“They may be destroying the taxi industry completely,” he explains. “It’s so pathetic. You build a building brick by brick. The Mayor tears everything down. You don’t need driver training. You don’t need DOT’s.”
Hubbard stresses this news was delivered just three weeks before the facility’s shutdown — giving the industry, “virtually no time to adjust to the changes”. What’s more it came with cabbies in the midst of their Christmas season rush, and dealing with winter driving conditions.
“As far as I know, no one in the taxi industry was consulted about the changes,” she adds.
To this suggestion, MLS executive director Tracey Cook responds, “On May 3, 2016, City Council made a series of decisions related to taxicab, limousine, and Private Transportation Company (PTC) regulations. As part of this decision, City Council authorized that an Alternate Vehicle Inspection Program be developed for taxicabs, limousines, and PTC vehicles.”
Hubbard maintains taxi operators were, “happy to go through the (DOT) inspections, and nobody in the industry asked for this.
“(The inspections) made us all feel better. There was a higher level of confidence in the cars,” she explains. “Having the City do inspections allowed for control and accountability.”
She notes the staff who worked at the Eastern Avenue facility, “knew exactly what to look for with taxis.”
Lucky 7 Taxi owner Lawrence Eisenberg was left scratching his head about this latest news, coming on the heels of last summer’s implementation of the contentious Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw.
“I think it’s crazy,” he says. “First, (vehicle safety) was a big deal, and now nothing. They’re putting everybody at risk, the drivers and the public. I don’t know what they’re doing.
“But we’re going to find out fast enough – when, unfortunately, something bad happens.”
Eisenberg also, “still can’t believe” the City abolished its driver training course.
“For years and years, that was their main thing,” he adds. “It went from three days, to two weeks. Now, nothing. I don’t get it.”
Veteran owner/operator Gerry Manley declares the closing of the MLS vehicle inspection centre, “a big, big mistake on a number of fronts.”
“Whatever happened to consumer and driver protection, which the City has always stated was the primary goal in their rationale of having vehicles inspected and checked?” he wonders.
“With no other plan in place at the present time, how will the City ensure that the vehicles are safe and roadworthy? Everyone knows, for a few dollars you can always find a mechanic willing to give you a vehicle mechanical safety certificate without even checking the taxicab.”
On July 1, 2016, the Ministry of Transportation implemented tougher standards for Safety Inspections, which he says have increased the cost substantially, to $150 to $200. Taxi, limo, and PTC owners are required to go through this process twice a year.
“It’s a much more in-depth program,” he explains. “It’s more like a commercial vehicle check. They have to go through a two-page report.
It’s very, very transparent.
“So the question is, are these costs going to be taken off the owners’ annual licensing fees, since the inspections at Eastern Avenue were included in those renewal costs?” he asks.
Hubbard makes it clear the public did not pay for the DOT’s at Eastern Avenue.
“Under the City’s cost recovery policy, they were paid for by the industry,” she reminds. “So, any suggestion that the public purse will be better off (with the shutdown of the MLS inspection facility) is simply not true.”
Manley is equally perturbed that in-car security cameras are also no longer being inspected, and meters are no longer being sealed, under the new rules. He was the driving force, as Toronto became the first city in North America to mandate cameras into all cabs in 2000 – since reducing the crime rate against taxi drivers by between 70 and 80 percent! It will now be left to concerned operators to pay for camera inspections, at a cost of $30 to $50. But Manley observes that, “history has proven, unless mandated it will probably not occur.”
“(This system) has worked very well. Now, nobody is going to check the equipment. We haven’t had any upgrades in 10 years,” he beefs. “All of a sudden, this successful program is going down the tubes.”
Hubbard agrees the City’s level of concern should span both the mechanical fitness of taxis, and protecting drivers and passengers with cameras which are properly installed and working.
“It’s clear to me. They do not care one bit about public safety,” she alleges.
Similarly, Manley estimates a meter inspection will now cost taxi operators $30 to $50.
For all of these inspections to be done privately, and semi-annually, he ballparks the cost at $600 per year. He reiterates that, “these costs must now be removed from the annual taxicab owners’ license renewal fees.”
According to Cook, adjustments to fees as a result of the closing of the Vehicle Inspection Centre are under consideration by the City as part of the 2017 budget process, and further details will be available in late February.
When asked how the closing the DOT inspection centre in any way enhances public safety, she responds, “A number of adjustments to Business Licensing and Regulatory Services, and Licensing Enforcement have been made in order to manage the changes that will be taking place with the new regulatory requirements within the Vehicle-for-hire Bylaw.”
“The safety standards remain the same. Mechanical inspections must be conducted by a Motor Vehicle Inspection Station (MVIS) garage operator licensed by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. In order to be valid, a Safety Standards Certificate must have been issued no more than 36 days before the vehicle’s inspection date.”
© 2017 Taxi News