Anti-Uber blockade ends after Chief Mark Saunders agrees to a meeting with the taxi industry about enforcement.

After a day-long blockade that stopped traffic in front of City Hall and at Queen’s Park Circle, taxi drivers have agreed to a truce — for now.

Driver Sam Moini was granted an unexpected meeting with Mayor John Tory late Wednesday evening after hundreds of cab drivers shut down Queen St. and Bay St. in the afternoon to protest the city’s failure to regulate UberX. “This was the only way for our voice to get heard . . . this is not just about taxis, this is about their lives, this is about their family’s lives,” he said. After much debate, Moini was able to persuade drivers to disperse, on condition that they would be given a meeting with Police Chief Mark Saunders this week to discuss how the city can crack down against Uber, which operates as an unlicensed transportation service.

Dozens of taxis were double-parked in silent protest in front of city hall Wednesday, affecting both morning and evening commutes, while hundreds of drivers stood and sat in the middle of the street, blocking traffic.

Despite the frustration of city officials and commuters, taxi drivers said the dramatic tactic was a necessary last resort after more than a year of asking the city to shut down Uber, which it says is “illegal.”

“If someone messes with our bread and butter, we have no choice. If we’re going to die, we will all die here,” said Sukhdev Khangura, who said the taxi business has been so decimated by the competition that he’d made only $33 for 12 hours’ work the previous day.

Uber Canada spokesperson Susie Heath did not reveal how many extra drivers were on the road nor how many new downloads Uber had in Toronto. But many bystanders shouted their support for the app that lets freelance drivers pick up passengers for a low flat fee.

“We love Uber!” said one man sporting headphones, a winter touque and ski vest.

Roland Pharand, whose dog shook as the cab horns blasted, berated one of the drivers blocking his way as he tried to cross at Queens Quay and Yonge St.

“All I can say is, honking like this: illegal; blocking the street like this: illegal . . . They’re the ones breaking the bylaws,” Pharand said. “There’s something wrong with our cab system here.”

Asked if he used UberX, he said, “I will now.”

Todd Korol/Toronto Star Security guards hold back taxi cab drivers while they disrupted a city council meeting.

Todd Korol/Toronto Star
Security guards hold back taxi cab drivers while they disrupted a city council meeting.

Heath said there is room for Uber and the traditional taxi business.

“Torontonians deserve choice, and we believe there is room for all of us to serve our city,” Heath said in an email.

But for taxi drivers, many of whom immigrated to Canada in search of a better life, Uber isn’t just another choice, it’s a direct threat to its livelihood.

“It’s like our house burning,” explained Manny Kaynun, originally from India.

The problem, drivers say, is that while taxi cabs are heavily regulated, Uber cabs have been given a free ride to break city bylaws while officials wait to draft the official regulations, which are due in spring.

Skirting city regulations — like heavy license fees — keeps Uber fares up to 40 per cent cheaper — one reason some consumers love the service.

Drivers feel the city has squeezed them on both sides by heavily regulating them while allowing their competition to flourish unregulated.

“We do everything the city asks from us, and what do they do? They’ve shafted us,” said Karanvir Singh, who has been a taxi driver for 23 years.

Singh pointed to the irony that he received a $110 ticket for driving too slowly while protesting the city’s lack of bylaw enforcement.

“I am asking those involved to stop this,” Tory said in an unscheduled press conference.

“There is no excuse for putting the safety of the public at risk.”

Tory called the mass cabbie protest “dangerous and disruptive” and said it ran the risk of blocking emergency vehicles.

“The point has been made,” he said. “Dangerous and divisive tactics do nothing to address these issues.”

Councillor Jim Karygiannis came down to plead with protesters to accept the mayor’s offer to setup a meeting with Saunders.

“You won today,” he said. “Let’s move out, come on.”

Councillor Janet Davis said she understands the cabbie frustration and called Uber “bandits.” She called the incident of the driver banging on the alleged UberX car “a symptom of taxi industry frustration.”

Before agreeing to meet with the drivers, Toronto’s top cop Saunders said taxi drivers “need to impact the lawmakers, not the average citizen.”

A clearly irritated Saunders had also begged the drivers to end the protest. While police kept a close watch on the protesters all day, no arrests were made and they did not interfere with their blockade.

“I understand people are desperate . . . don’t let that passion cause you to make stupid decisions,” he added. “Don’t let that passion cause you to make unlawful decisions.”

Some tickets were issued to drivers because they were driving too slowly, and one driver was charged with dangerous driving after he accidentally clipped a police officer on his bike.

A passerby said he watched a group of cabbies swarm the Honda Civic.

“All we heard was someone yelling, “Uber driving here,’” said Robert Kubbinga, who was Christmas shopping with a friend. “It was just complete mayhem.”

Todd Korol/Toronto Star A taxi cab driver holds a protest sign outside city hall.

Todd Korol/Toronto Star
A taxi cab driver holds a protest sign outside city hall.

Sajid Mughal, president of the TaxiWorkers Association, said the drivers are frustrated.

“Our list is very short and very clear: that we want fairness. We want the enforcement of the bylaws that (the) city passed on Sept. 30.”

The ultimate goal, Mughal said, is for the city to seek an injunction shutting down UberX while city staff work to create new bylaws.

Source: The Toronto Star