Planned taxi protest now postponed until after All-Star weekend
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Wednesday, February 10, 2016 8:12AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 10, 2016 2:49PM EST
Taxi drivers will not go ahead with a planned protest against Uber that was slated to take place on Friday evening just as the NBA All-Star weekend got underway.
The protest would have seen drivers stage a slow-moving procession along Highway 427 and the Gardiner Expressway before circling the Air Canada Centre but the man who had promoted the idea told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that it has been “put off” for now.
“We never had an intention to hijack the City of Toronto for the NBA All-Star event but emotions overran us and we didn’t know what else to do,” organizer Paul Sekhon told reporters following a meeting with several city councillors and representatives from the city’s business community on Wednesday afternoon. “We understand by doing a strike like this we would just cause a big mess for Toronto businesses and a big inconvenience for the public.”
The planned protest would have taken place on a busy night in the city with the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game tipping off at Ricoh Coliseum at 7 p.m. and the Rising Stars Challenge taking place at a sold-out Air Canada Centre at 9 p.m.
Speaking with reporters, Sekhon said he now realizes that it is important for the cab industry to be a “role model” during what could be a major weekend for the City of Toronto.
“I let my emotions calm down,” Sekhon said of his decision to call off the protest. “I have to think about the big picture. I have to worry about the rest of the industry and make sure that Toronto taxis are still doing their job. This is NBA All-Star weekend and we have to be a role model.
Taxi industry workers have long contended that Uber X drivers, who use their own vehicles to pick up fares and often lack commercial insurance, pose a direct threat to their livelihood and should be forced to conform to the same bylaws that cabs are held to.
Tory, meanwhile, has expressed sympathy with taxi drivers but has asked for their patience as the city drafts new regulations for the entire ground transportation industry.
“The taxi drivers who are struggling and are faced with a regulatory environment that needs modernizing will not gain anything from this protest,” Tory told reporters earlier on Wednesday. “In fact there have been arguments made that they will lose from this in terms of public opinion really turning in a way that is not positive.”
Group predicting 6,000 drivers will take streets
Sekhon had estimated that as many as 6,000 drivers would have participated in Friday’s protest.
It should, however, be noted that Beck Taxi is had asked its drivers not to participate.
The Toronto Taxi Alliance, which has organized previous protests against Uber, had also not endorsed Friday’s action.
“I am delighted to see that some elements of the taxi industry have acknowledged the fact that this is not the time to have a protest and that this is not going to move anything forward from the standpoint of drivers or the taxi industry,” Tory said. “I just hope that cooler heads prevail.”
Sekhon told CP24 on Wednesday morning that his organization has made police aware of Friday’s protest and received a permit; however a spokesperson from the mayor’s office said that no such permit has been issued by the city. The Ministry of Transportation and the Toronto Police Service have also confirmed that permits have not been issued.
A similar protest in December slowed or stopped traffic around Queen’s Park, Toronto City Hall and on the Don Valley Parkway and the QEW/Gardiner Expressway, and was only halted after Police Chief Mark Saunders agreed to meet with the drivers.
“The December protest was 3,000 vehicles and this is going to be much bigger than that,” Sekhon told CP24 before he cancelled the event. “I am sure people will be inconvenienced but we have to stand up for our rights and make our point clear just like any other business and any other industry.”
The new regulations for the ground transportation industry are expected to be completed by March and brought to city council sometime this spring.
In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, Municipal Licensing and Standards Executive Director Tracey Cook urged drivers to participate in the consultations being staged as part of that process rather than taking the streets to protest the current regulatory environment, which all sides have agreed needs to be updated.
“The most productive way for members of the taxi industry to voice their opinion and have input into the new framework is through this review process; not through actions such as strikes, protests or blocking city streets,” she said.