Cabbies protest two-tier licensing

Toronto taxi driver Khalil Talke says he’s been victimized twice.

Last Valentine’s Day, Talke picked up a passenger at Downsview subway station in Toronto. The man directed him to the Yonge and Sheppard area. He then attacked Talke, stabbing him repeatedly from behind before running away. A passerby called police.

What made matters worse for Talke was the city’s taxi licensing bylaw. The system required Talke to turn in his licence while he recovers in hospital.

“I’ve been victimized two times,” Talke said. “Once was my attacker; the second was the city bylaw.”

On Monday night, approximately 250 taxi drivers packed a conference room at the Days Hotel on Wilson Avenue for a meeting held by the iTaxiworkers Association. The drivers discussed problems with what they call a two-tier licensing system. The taxi drivers feel that “standard” licences, ones that can be leased or used by multiple drivers, are mainly owned by Caucasians. “Ambassador” plates on the other hand can only be driven by the owner and are mainly owned by visible minorities. Allegations that the system is discriminatory were first initiated by cab driver Asafo Addai in 2006. At the meeting, Addai outlined the Association’s proposals.

“Our message tonight is very simple,” Addai said, “one city, one taxi, one standard.”

The iTaxiworkers Association has promoted awareness of the problems of taxi drivers in Toronto for several years.

Former city councillor Howard Moscoe favoured the two-tier licensing system. In the late 1990s, the city found that three-quarters of licences were being leased out to drivers other than their owners, despite the intentions of regulators. Following a lengthy legal battle in 1998, the city succeeded in creating the “ambassador” plates.

If Talke had been given “standard” licence, he said he could have earned money by renting his taxi out to other drivers while he recovers in hospital. However, because he has the “ambassador” plate, he was forced to return it.

Jacob Leibovitch, executive director for the iTaxiworkers Association, said that the licensing system is racially motivated.

“Those driving ambassador (plates) are over 93 per cent from racialized communities,” Leibovitch said. “Those holding the standard plates, it’s closer to 50 per cent are from a European background.”

Leibovitch thinks it’s unfair that taxi drivers have been given a bad reputation.

“Taxi drivers are maligned by almost everyone,” he said. “To work with them to come together and try and advocate for their interests, to me that challenge is a temptation that I just couldn’t pass up.”