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Toronto Taxi Tales

Today I hailed a taxi coming down Spadina Avenue just outside of Kensington Market. I jumped in and asked to go to Union Station Bus Terminal. The driver switched on the meter and we were on our way.

Further down Spadina he rolled down his window, slowed to a crawl, craned his neck out the window, and asked a couple standing at the roadside with luggage where they were going. “The airport,” they said, meaning Pearson International. That’s an expensive ride from downtown Toronto.

Turning back to me, the taxi driver apologized profusely and asked me to jump out so he could take the couple instead. The fuck is that? I refused at first—I was in a rush back to Hamilton for my going-away dinner and could not afford to be late. Then he started pleading with me, gushing out some sob story about how he needed the money, hackneyed and insincere bullshit about feeding his family and so on. Again I refused to leave the taxi and again he pressured me to leave. After a few exchanges I had enough and said, “What you’re doing is illegal,” and exited the taxi, leaving the door ajar. By then I figured it wouldn’t be a comfortable ride even if I did manage to convince him to drop the idea.

With a smile on his face (and perhaps dollar signs in his eyes) the driver jumped out to help load his new fare’s luggage into the trunk. I stood on the sidewalk, took out my phone, and snapped a picture of the scene, with all relevant identifying features clearly visible. This certainly got the driver’s attention. He started yelling at me over the din of traffic, concern in his voice, “No, my friend!” Expressionless, I shouted back, “I’ll be reporting you for this,” and walked off. I hadn’t made any decisions at that point, mostly I just wanted to discourage him from pulling such a stupid stunt again. Actions have consequences.

Fifteen seconds later he’s pulled up alongside me with the couple already inside the back of the taxi to continue wheedling away: “Get in! I will give you a free ride. Please!” I just keep walking, not saying anything at first. No way was I going to bother with the situation any more—I just wanted to get going already. He continued to follow me down Spadina, the couple watching in a state of mild shock and confusion, no doubt regretting that they had gone through with things, while the driver insisted that I get into the cab. At one point I turned to him and said, without any shred of politeness, “What, and inconvenience these people too? Go fuck yourself.” He continued to follow me, begging me to reconsider, but I had nothing more to say except: “Just drive!” Eventually he got the point and accelerated out of view.

It took me another ten minutes to hail an honest taxi and let me tell you, I was not pleased. Moreover, the stupidity of the situation completely confused me. Isn’t there a huge struggle going on between Uber and the taxi industry in this city? Do we not live in an age of ubiquitous smartphones and out-of-control social media shaming? Why on earth would any taxi driver pull such a stunt knowing these things? And more to the point, what do you suppose might happen if I shared my experience with all details intact? Suddenly it seemed that I had considerable influence over the course of a stranger’s life.

I told the story to the second taxi driver and she shook her head in disapproval. Mere weeks ago a young woman in Toronto was shot and killed after a taxi driver refused her a ride. It isn’t legal in Toronto to refuse anyone a ride—much less toss someone out to obtain a higher fare. The first taxi driver could easily lose his job or license. Small potatoes when people are losing their lives over this sort of thing.

Maybe that’s as it should be—but the second taxi driver made an interesting point in passing. After hearing my story she said, “You should find forgiveness.” This gave me pause. We don’t know very much about this man. He could be a bad person or maybe he was acting in desperation for other reasons. Perhaps that’s how he usually operates or maybe it was a rare mistake. Who am I to pass judgement when the stakes are as high as a man’s livelihood? But then she continued, “Everyone made mistakes in this situation.” And with that the moment was shattered. What the hell had I done wrong? At worst I was just angry about what had happened.

Anyhow, after the anger left me I was much less interested in making a big deal about it. I eventually called the company to file a report. They were remarkably professional about it, somewhat to my surprise. Maybe it was all theater but it sure seemed like they were really concerned about the situation and interested in the details and specific sequence of events. Whatever the case, I know I’ll be thinking twice about ever taking another taxi in Toronto.

And that’s the story of the very last thing that happened before I left Toronto again for an indefinite period of time.

1 Comment

  1. While the second taxi driver is right that we will never know what motivated the first driver to catch a more lucrative fare while the meter was already on, this sort of behaviour (plus the flouting of laws against refusing fares) is far too rampant and much as I rail against the likes of uber, it is impossible for me to deny that it is the incumbent that is allowing uber to come in and take over market share. It is frustrating to be sure.

    I’m back in Taipei in Oct, let’s find time to grab a pint somewhere.

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