Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
Taxi drivers in Brampton will no longer have to pass English tests or go through geographical knowledge training after City Council removed all requirements for them to do so.
This is a decision that defies simple logic. Think about it for a moment. Can anyone with poor English and little knowledge of the city they work in be an effective taxi driver?
Of course not.
Brampton is over 260 square kilometers of residential subdivisions, industrial parks and an historic downtown core. It has over 3,500 streets, boulevards, crescents and roads.
Imagine for a moment you are newly arrived in Canada. Chances are you speak your native language, and a few words of English.
You hail a taxi at the airport, and provide the driver with an address. You have no idea where the address is. You have no cell phone to call the family whose home you are staying in. You must depend on the taxi driver to get you to your destination, taking the quickest, most safe and direct route possible.
Now let’s assume your taxi driver has little in the way of training, speaks little English, and your driver can’t read a map book, won’t have a clue how to set up his GPS device, and can’t read the address written on the piece of paper you have handed him.
And even if he understood the address, the driver has had little in the way of geographic training because standards have been all but eliminated.
My advice is you will need to buckle your seatbelt and settle in for a long, expensive and frustrating ride.
There are three simple factors that make for a successful taxi driver: good driving skills, the ability to communicate effectively with clients and an excellent knowledge of the city, its roads, landmarks and amenities.
There is only one way to ensure that every taxi driver possesses these three skills – test them against a minimum standard.
Except in Brampton, there is now no longer a reasonable minimum standard.
Gurmeet Singh, a local Brampton lawyer, observed that cabbies have had to pass a written taxi license test and have a proven driving record to qualify as a taxi driver.
This has been an acceptable standard for years, so why the change now? Who is council pandering to at our expense?
It is true that most of the taxi drivers come from countries where English is taught as a second language. While Brampton has a very diverse population, understanding basic English remains a core skill that ultimately unites us all.
Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon, one of the backers of the proposal, was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star, “The taxi industry came to us and said they want to make the system like Toronto’s, where English is mandatory, a requirement, but there is no testing for it.”
Ambassadors for the city
Of course, technology help us find our way around, but taxi cabs are often more than just a means of transportation.
To someone who is new to Brampton, a taxi driver is often the first ambassador to our city.
I’m glad that Councillor Gael Miles who made the point that our cabbies must know English to communicate with their passengers.
And when I spoke to Lakhbir Manak, owner of Paparazzi Kids children’s clothing store which has many outlets in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), said, “Toronto is a world class tourism hub. Thus, English should be a basic requirement for cabbies who represent us as the first contact for tourists in our region.
“Taxi drivers should have knowledge of major tourist attractions and act as a source of information for people coming to the city.”
This would be impossible if we don’t hold our taxi drivers to a high standard.
However, in Brampton, where mediocrity has become the standard, yet another important service to our citizens has been dumbed down, and we will all suffer for it.
Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.