Councillor wants to put the brakes on airport limousines

A trip from the Renaissance Hotel at the Rogers Centre to Pearson International Airport in a licensed Toronto taxi costs approximately $30.

Airflight Services – one of many licensed airport limousine companies in Toronto – charges a $46 flat-rate for that same trip in a Lincoln Town Car.

However, Airflight Services and other limousine companies like it may not be an option much longer.

A proposed bylaw would limit airport limousine services to transporting passengers from the airport to their destination. Under the bylaw, airport limousines would not be allowed to pick up passengers anywhere in the city, including their homes.

One of the bylaw’s most adamant supporters is city councillor Howard Moscoe.

“For many years, runs to the airport have been a sore point for Toronto taxi drivers,” Moscoe said.

Doormen taking money from limo companies?

“Toronto taxi drivers have a right to take a fare to the airport, but are refused the opportunity. Limo drivers are taking people both ways.”

Currently, airport limousines may take passengers to or from the airport, as long as the trip is arranged in advance.

Moscoe claims doormen at all hotels in the city take money from airport limo drivers in exchange for passengers.

“Hotel doormen and personnel routinely direct people away from taxis who are lined up in front, in exchange for a payoff” he said. “Their rate is about ten dollars. The hotels absolutely refuse to do anything about it, because the hotel itself benefits in that it doesn’t have to pay those employees a higher wage.”

Melanie Coates, regional director of public relations for the Fairmount Royal York, said that guests often prefer to take an airport limo.

‘It’s all about choice’

“It’s about choice,” she said. “Service is the most important component of our company. That’s based on (the guest’s) choice. We can offer a guest a choice between a taxi and a limo.”

Coates would not comment on whether or not Royal York management has ever had to discipline staff for taking money from a driver.

One downtown hotel doorman said that he does not take money from drivers, because the guests determine who takes them to the airport.

“No. Never,” he said when asked if he ever took money from a driver. “It depends on the guest. Some prefer to take taxis, and some prefer to take limos.”

Moscoe feels that the current situation provides an unfair advantage to limousine services.

“The Toronto taxi industry is hurting,” he said. “There are too many cabs on the streets and not enough fares. Now their legitimate business is being stolen away, by illegal payoffs to doormen and hotel personnel.”

Balwant Bhangu, manager of Airflight services, said that his company does not allow anything illegal. Any driver that illegally picks up passengers, is automatically suspended for three days.

Bhangu feels that his company has earned the advantage, because they offer the customer a better experience.

“It’s a better car, and more professional service,” he said. “We only use Lincoln Towncars, and the price is a flat rate. We don’t use meters.”

Bylaw would hurt his company

Bhangu says this bylaw would eradicate that advantage, and hurt his company.
“We’ll still be operating but the revenue will be less,” he said. “More and more (cars) will be lining up at the airport. The drivers and their families will be affected.”

If the bylaw is passed, Bhangu says he will lay off half of his dispatch and office staff, currently made up of 19 people. He will not immediately lay off any drivers.

Another issue is credit cards. Many taxis do not take credit cards. Airport limousines enable passengers to pay with a credit card, and keep their receipts, which is important to business travellers.

“Many of our guests, and our corporate guests prefer to use their credit card,” Coates said. “You can’t do that in a Taxi. It’s easy for them to get their receipts. It’s a matter of expenses.”

The City Council will vote on the bylaw March. If passed, the law would go into effect before the end of summer.

According to Moscoe, there are about 75 drivers in the city with both taxi licenses and airport limousine licenses. A grandfather clause would permit those drivers to continue operating as they have been.

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