News / Edmonton

Edmonton's taxi plate grey market should be 'broken up': Loken

Those invested need way out, says insider

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Coun. Dave Loken hopes Edmonton will emulate Toronto and start breaking up its grey market for taxi plates — but one industry insider says owners who stand to lose a lot of money need to be provided an off ramp.

"We need to look at increasing the number of taxi plates, but while doing that — with at least the new plates — we should seriously look at making those plates non transferable," Loken said Tuesday.

Loken's comments come a day after Metro revealed that on the cusp of Uber's legalization in March, Edmonton's taxi plate market is already showing signs of collapse. Plates that once fetched more than $200,000 are now selling for just $70,000.

At the centre of it all is the city's grey market for taxi plates and what Uber's arrival means for the people who own them.

In 1995, Edmonton joined most other North American cities in freezing the supply of taxi plates — in Edmonton's case at 1,185.

Gary Dziwenka, chief livery officer currently in charge of taxis in Edmonton, said previously the idea was to limit supply to ensure drivers could make a living wage and therefore maintain the safety and cleanliness of their cabs.

But some industry insiders and policy makers now see that decision as creating the plate grey market as well as some of the issues the industry faces today, including consumer dissatisfaction that led pushes to legalize Uber.

Since 1995, Edmonton has grown by more than 250,000 people but has added just 134 taxi plates, despite recommendations in 2008 to add more than 300.

The city's former Taxi Commission — staffed mostly by taxi industry insiders — voted against the plate increase, only for council to disband it in 2012.  

Nonetheless, Edmonton has added few plates in the interim and the grey market has remained, becoming the questionably legal workaround to meet growing consumer demand for taxis through transferring several drivers the use of one plate.

In Toronto a similar situation now sees more than 70 per cent of plate holders being taxi companies or plate brokers, not owner-operators.

Critics of this situation say the incentive to maintain a cab's safety, cleanliness and customer service falls if the driver doesn't own the taxi or the license.

In response,, Toronto's council recently created rules requiring all plate owners to drive a minimum of 167 hours per month. The decision is expected to eliminate middle-men and people hoarding taxi plates over the next 10 years.

Loken said he's interested in Toronto's solution and wants the transfers to stop.

"Any new plates that we create, those should be non transferable right from the start," he said. "That way there's no chance of the continuation of this market that's been created as a result of bad regulation, or no regulation in some cases.

"It's just created this sort of market where people are spending their life savings [for a plate] and brokers are also taking advantage of that as well."

Loken added several other councillors feel similarly and he plans to propose the changes at the next debate over rideshare bylaws.

But Gord Beatty, with 24-7 Taxi, said council needs to give those who've worked hard to survive in Edmonton's taxi system a way to exit without losing everything.

"I think it's unfair to have done nothing, essentially, for 20 years, to give any indication to anyone entering the market that that investment [in a taxi plate] wasn't somewhat secure," Beatty said, referring to the lack of new plates created in the city.

"It's not paper money for a lot of these guys — it's a mortgage on their house."

Beatty, who said he doesn't own plates, added council could begin putting more plates into circulation as well as restricting the number of Uber cars allowed to operate.

Over time, he said, council could increase the numbers and create a wide-open system, while offering people who are highly invested in the current system time to find a way out, he said.

Beatty added New South Whales, which recently allowed Uber into the market, is compensating taxi plate owners from between $20,000 and $175,000 for their plates.

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