Kingston City Council votes to explore Taxi Commission alternatives

City Council received and passed a motion on Tuesday, May 17, 2022, directing City staff to review information on options to incorporate the regulation of taxis in Kingston and Loyalist Township within municipal services and under the City Council’s oversight. This comes on the heels of what can only be described as a tense standoff between those in the taxi industry and the current Kingston and Area Taxi Commission (KATC).

Councillors Simon Chapelle and Rob Hutchinson, inset left to right, expressed strong opposing positions when it came to investigating alternative ways to govern the taxicab industry in the Kingston area. Screen Captured image.

Moved by Councillor Rob Hutchison and seconded by Councillor Peter Stroud, the motion pointed out that KATC was established over 30 years ago and that there are only two such commissions in urban municipalities in Ontario – the other being in Canada’s largest city, Toronto. It also states that the KATC governance model “has prevented City Council from being directly involved in the decision-making process as it relates to the licensing, regulating, and governing of the owners and drivers of taxi cabs” and that “community members and representatives of the taxi industry have raised concerns with the oversight of the KATC for a number of years.”

Councillor Simon Chapelle, who currently sits on the KATC, was the only councillor who voiced disagreement with this assertion, stating, “As far as transparency is concerned, we [KATC] publish all of our meetings on Facebook Live, we publish all of our minutes. It’s very accessible.” The publishing of minutes is a very recent occurrence, however, as the KATC’s minutes were not published prior to Kingstonist’s investigation into the inner workings of the commission amidst the recent pay hike debacle.

In fact, Councillor Chapelle himself was unwilling to speak on the record about the inner workings of the Commission – multiple attempts to reach him in his role as City Council’s representative on the Commission were instead met by an email from his fellow Commissioner, Dianne Aziz, on his behalf. Aziz further refused to answer questions about when and how decisions of the commission were made and by whom. This culminated with an email from Aziz stating, “The commission does not do interviews.”

Furthermore, questions regarding the guidelines surrounding the KATC’s publication of meeting agendas and minutes arose after the Commission’s most recent meeting agenda was not published until after 3 p.m. the day of the meeting, on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Aziz explained via email, “we are simply late posting it.” After the scant agenda was published, the meeting itself failed to be streamed or recorded due to “technical difficulties.” The minutes of that meeting, also scarce in detail, are now published on the KATC website.

But when, and how, the Commission makes their plans and decisions public currently remains solely up to the Commission itself. Unlike for the City’s Planning Committee, the City of Kingston does not dictate the rules and regulations surrounding the publication of meeting documents.

Whereas the Planning Committee must publish the agenda for a coming meeting by 3:30 p.m. on the Friday the week before that meeting, and then publish the minutes of that meeting after they are confirmed (usually at the next meeting of the Committee), according to Derek Ochej, Deputy City Clerk, “Regarding the KATC, the City of Kingston Clerk’s Department has no involvement in the clerical administration of the committee,” he said in an email.

“With regards to the standards the KATC has for publishing agendas and minutes, you would need to speak with them directly,” Ochej said when asked about the publication guidelines.

For his part, Chapelle expressed offence to the motion at the meeting of Council. “I find it a bit offside that councillor Hutchinson would actually bring forward a motion like this without even consulting with a member of the [commission] here for the City of Kingston,” he said. “So, it’s a bit frustrating to spend 10 to 15 hours a week on this particular commission, and then, you know, be slapped in the face like this. So I’m not going to support this, and I would ask that we allow the Taxi Commission to continue to drive a positive change… [the motion is] not something that I feel is appropriate at this time, and therefore I will not be supportive.”

Councillor Bridget Doherty and Councillor Jim Neill both indicated that they had unique insight, as they have both been members of the commission in the past. Councillor Neill pointed out that he had even been its chair for a time in the 1990s.

“The reason why [KATC] ended up as provincially mandated policy was that at that time [the industry] was somewhat dysfunctional,” Neill said. “The taxi owners fought against one another; they didn’t get along with the drivers. I think there’s a very different type of collaboration that’s going on today, from what I understand from talking to some owners [and] drivers.” 

Neill reiterated the importance of following procedural bylaws and transparency rules, like those that City Council is beholden to. He also noted that, in speaking to taxi company owners and drivers, those within the industry felt that “they were learning certain things” after the fact, and without much consultation.

“Like a 40 per cent increase – which they tell me they didn’t want, because 40 per cent would make them more expensive than Uber, and they’d lose riders,” he said. “So, there wasn’t the collaboration and consultation that I think there would be if they were an organization under the umbrella of the City, following procedural bylaws and… transparency rules.”

Neill said he was, therefore, “quite happy to support the motion that stands before us because I think it’ll give [Council and the industry] the opportunity for greater input.”

Hutchinson reminded City Council that the taxi industry is part of the city’s transportation strategy and, as such, should be transparent and accountable to the public.

Councillor Doherty added, “I support this motion. I was on the commission before… and I know the previous commission did discuss this in detail, actually, and met with [Chief Administrative Officer Lanie] Hurdle and the City Solicitor a couple of times… The commission recognized that… it might be better for the City to actually incorporate the licensing, regulating, and governing of the Taxi Commission… So, I think it’s worth it for us to learn from the report that will come to Council… we’ll hear more information that will help us make that decision.”

Before the vote, Councillor Hutchinson had the last word on the motion and the comments of support and non-support, saying, “I suppose I should respond to Councillor Chapelle’s comments, though I’m really disinclined to do that because my concern comes from hearing from numerous people, the cab companies, drivers, and the residents. It’s not just about the current commission… but lately, there [have] been issues… which were implausible to me.”

“It has to be understood that the taxi industry is part of the city’s transportation strategy,” Hutchinson reminded Council. “This is very clear in the downtown area, where there are people of modest means who don’t own a car… and also one of the [cab] companies is in my district, so this is my impetus for bringing this forward.”

“These issues are not new, and I thought after 16 years on Council, maybe we ought to do something about it. I’m sorry that the current commission and Councillor Chapelle feel caught in the crosshairs… when I spoke to Councillor Chapelle long before this meeting, I said, ‘You know, maybe you should see the historical context’… this is all about transparency and accountability… [and] information, about trying to assess what our options are and where we might go. So I ask you to vote for this motion and get this process moving forward.”

The motion passed with only Councillor Chapelle and Deputy Mayor Gary Oosterhof opposed.

City staff will now have until Q3, 2022, to report back to Council with information on options to incorporate the licensing, regulating and governing of the owners and drivers of taxi cabs within municipal services and under City Council’s oversight.

To view a recording of the full meeting, visit the Kingston City Council YouTube page.

With files from Tori Stafford.

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