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Brantford Council supports regulating vehicles for hire

City of BrantfordBrantford Council supports regulating vehicles for hire

City of Brantford Council supported a by-law to amend Chapter 327- Taxicab Licensing to include, and better regulate vehicles for hire during their Committee of the Whole, Planning and Administration meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

The City of Brantford took over the administration and enforcement of taxicab licensing from the Brantford Police Service in 2018, and City Staff have recently completed a comprehensive review to modernize regulations, maintain safety standards and to help level the playing fields with other vehicle for hire services like Uber or Lyft.

The review included topics such as accessibility, synergies with the County of Brant, regulations for other vehicles for hire, trip fees and the limit of taxicab licensing plates.

Currently, there are three licensed taxicab brokers in Brantford including Brant Taxi, Bell City Cabs, and EasyRide Taxi Inc., and the three hold all of the 94 city-issued taxi license plates, employing over 200 drivers annually. To hold a taxi license, drivers must adhere to a set of standards including providing a criminal record check, an abstract driver record search, a valid driver’s license and must be linked to a maximum of one broker.

“As well, the vehicles require a safety certificate to be submitted annually at renewal time, and Staff inspect the vehicles twice per year including a one-kilometer lap at the Wayne Gretzky Centre,” said Jill Binkley, Supervisor of Licensing and Administration Services. “These are specific to taxis only and typical Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) do not meet the definition of a taxi.”

Staff are now recommending that Chapter 327, which deals with taxicab licensing, be amended to include TNCs like Uber or Lyft so that the companies also have to maintain the minimum standards that taxis do.

Staff also recommended removing the limit of the 94 license plates for taxi brokers, as well as to remove City set rates to allow brokers to set them instead. When approved, it would also allow shared services between the County and the City, as well as allow taxi drivers to work for more than one brokerage company. It was also recommended that taxi inspections be conducted once a year on demand, rather than the current two.

“What we’ve learned from the taxicab brokers throughout this process is that TNCs have emerged as competition, and they are not regulated in Brantford,” said Binkley. “…Recent challenges for the [taxi] brokers include pandemic recovery, vehicle shortages, vehicle parts shortages, driver recruitment, retention, and the unregulated competition. What we’ve learned from the taxi drivers is that TNCs are not held to City standard and there’s a lack of fairness.”

Councillor John Sless later asked if there was a timeline when taxis and TNCs would be made equal.

“Totally equal, I’m not sure. What we were proposing in the report is that we are now just starting a new licensing year and so on April 1, we’ll be issuing our 2024 business licenses and those will carry the license holders through until March 31, 2025,” said Binkley. “We were hoping to take this licensing year to educate the public, get data sharing agreements if necessary, with TNCs, and really educate the public on what is a taxi and what is a TNC so they know what they’re getting when they’re making a choice for their transportation.”

Councillor Richard Carpenter then asked if there was any way they could move any of the changes up and address them sooner rather than later.

“The industry is at significant risk and since we’ve identified what the TNCs’ risks are, are we not at risk if we don’t move forward to that rather quickly?” he asked. “For example, if we’re not making sure that the TNCs are insured, then any risk that happens between now and the implementation, we could be seen as being liable.”

Binkley said that they could look into splitting up the process.

“If there are recommendations specific to the taxi community that committee was in favor of and council approved, then we could look at maybe breaking this off into sections, and looking at the things that we can implement sooner for the taxi community,” she said. 

The topic of available and reliable accessible vehicles for those living with disabilities also came up during the meeting.

“While the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, (AODA) has requirements for taxicabs, similar requirements are not yet applied to TNCs,” read the Staff report. “Currently, Chapter 327 provides for a ratio of one for every 18 taxicab vehicles to be accessible. This applies to the total fleet of vehicles servicing the City and does not specify a number that each broker is responsible for. Currently, the total fleet of 94 plates is meeting a ratio of one in nine.”

Councillor Linda Hunt said that she would also be interested in seeing what could be done regarding the concerns with the existing ten accessible taxi vehicles currently in rotation.

“I do know as a person with a disability myself who requires an accessible taxi occasionally, that the concern about availability and reliability is valid and I would be very interested in seeing what we can do to relieve those concerns.”

Councillor Greg Martin asked if there was any possible way to encourage the TNCs to provide more accessible vehicles for those who need it.

“Absolutely, with the trip fees that are built into the report, what we are recommending is 11 cents per trip for a regular TNC ride and then any ride that is not in an accessible vehicle, a further 11 cents would all be remitted to the city. What we’re hoping to do is collect that into a fund,” said Binkley. “Then we want to come back to Council with a plan on how best to administer that fund and encourage more transportation that is accessible.”

Councillors also brought up TNC drivers and the fatigue that some may be experiencing.

“We’ve heard that where many of the TNC drivers are driving as a side gig, there may be issues with respect to driver fatigue to the point where it causes an impairment to safely operate a vehicle,” said Steve Jones, a Brantford taxi driver. “For example, a TNC driver may be a full-time student holding a regular job and driving. …As a taxi driver, we have very strict limits on how long we’re allowed to work and must also adhere to very strict limits of rest periods between our shifts.”

Binkley noted that while many TNC companies have a shut off period after a certain active period, she hadn’t found any examples of it being logically regulated.

Kevin Davis, Mayor for the City of Brantford, also asked Binkley how they could prohibit out-of-town drivers from picking up fares in Brantford if they aren’t licensed to operate in the city.

“The way the bylaw was written is that any pickups made in the City of Brantford require that that platform be licensed, and then the driver be accountable to that platform,” responded Binkley.

She said the intent is to acquire monthly reports from the TNCs, including those taking pickups in Brantford, and reconciling it with the by-law and trip records, as well as calling drivers in for inspections and making sure they are familiar with the City’s requirements.

Before the vote, councillor Carpenter asked Binkley if her and Staff could collaborate with the taxi community and work to fill in any missing gaps from the report, and to see what else they can improve. He also asked if they could tighten up the implementation timeline before coming back to council later in the month.

The item was then carried unanimously and the final decision will be made later this month.

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