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E-BLAST: It's Electrifying! Getting Vehicles-for-Hire to Net Zero

Almost every Council and Committee cycle, we consider at least one motion or report that is a part of our Transform TO Net Zero Strategy—City Council's goal to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto to net zero by 2040. This month, the notable piece of policy that our Economic & Community Development Committee debated had to do with Vehicles-for-Hire. These include the taxis, limos, Ubers, and other ride-shares that zip around our city each day.

City Council has a stated goal of having Toronto's Vehicle-for-Hire industry reach net zero emissions by 2030. Somehow, we have to find a way to incentivize this conversion across all of the different business models. The regulations that govern Vehicles-for-Hire are very complex, but City Staff have some ideas that they will present to Council in October.

One thing we know for sure: The Vehicle-for-Hire business is a tough way to make a living at the best of times, and it was especially hard hit by the pandemic. When it became clear that the pandemic was going to last a lot longer than we thought, Council voted to reduce taxi drivers' annual license renewal fee by 50%. That fee is still cut in half today.  City staff have recommended a return to the former rate by January 1, 2025 unless, of course, that vehicle is electric.

Essentially, staff are suggesting that if an electric Vehicle-for-Hire car is purchased in 2025, the owner will get a steep discount on their license renewal fee. City staff will use the revenue generated from adopting the old, 100% license fee for all non-electric Vehicles-for-Hire to fund that discount program. The discount for electric vehicles will decrease each year until we get to 2030, when all vehicles need to be zero emissions anyways.

Vehicle-for-Hire cars need to be replaced every seven years. This policy aims to ensure that every vehicle replaced between now and 2030 is electric. We're throwing in an added benefit for all Vehicle-for-Hire car owners. Vehicle-for-Hire cars that are eligible for replacement in 2024 are being given a one year extension so that they can align their purchase of a new car with the January 2025 implementation of the grant and license discount program. Once drivers switch to electric, their cars won't be required to be replaced every seven years.

Of course, this transition could be further helped by additional incentives from the other orders of government. In particular, we wish that the Province would reintroduce the old electric car rebate that would give the buyer up to $14,000 back at the time of purchase. Even half of that would be amazing.

Once the electric Vehicle-for-Hire cars are purchased, a new program will ensure that the taxi or limo driver gets compensated on a per-trip basis for providing electric transport ahead of the 2030 Net Zero target date. A similar grant is proposed for Uber and Lyft drivers with electric cars.

Private transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft are licensed and regulated in a different way from the taxi industry. That is a whole separate industry controversy that I won't delve into here. There is a full Vehicle-for-Hire industry review coming back next year on all matters pertaining to this industry other than the Net Zero piece. For now, Staff have proposed that these private transportation companies give us the data necessary to provide a small per-trip grant for every electric vehicle trip. Similar to the taxi incentive, this per-trip grant would decrease every year until 2030. Each of these private transportation companies would have until March 1, 2024 to present a transparency plan to City Staff that proves how the City grant funding will go directly towards the driver as the purchaser of the electric car.

Any time we propose changes in the Vehicle-for-Hire space, things get heated at City Hall. It has always been that way. Vehicles-for-Hire have historically been driven by some of the hardest working people in our community. These men and women get passionate about the job they were able to start upon arriving in Canada, whether they have moved on after a few years or stayed on to become taxi company owners and managers. I hope that this October Council, we can all remember that at this time, we really are debating just one aspect and not the whole industry.

Vehicles-for-Hire represent 6% of the emissions Toronto needs to reduce. How we get there is the only thing on the table when Council debates this motion in October. This industry conversion also incentivizes us to make other necessary changes, like installing super-charging stations across the city. Eventually, all car drivers are going to need that charging technology. Some of the revenue collected from returning to the pre-pandemic license fees will also go to funding an additional staff member in the City's environmental office to design charging stations with Vehicle-for-Hire operators specifically in mind.

I sure hope that this Vehicle-for-Hire Net Zero program, including the grant program, goes through. City Staff spent five months meeting with industry participants and leaders to arrive at these incentives and actions. We want to join the ranks of other cities like New York, where Mayor Eric Adams has already announced a robust Vehicle-for-Hire Net Zero plan. Toronto needs to be a leader in tackling this emissions source. 

To end on a personal note, rides in these electric Vehicles-for-Hire can inspire our own purchasing decisions. I bought a second-hand hybrid van to ferry my grandkids around because of what I learned when I hired a hybrid wheelchair van to pick up me and my dad one day. While some policies may seem small scale when thinking about the entirety of climate change, every single one makes a difference. We need to take every action we can to protect our planet for our kids, our grandkids, and generations to come.



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