Beck Taxi

An Integral Part of Toronto Since 1967

When you think of Toronto some of the immediate images that may come to mind might possibly include the likes of the CN Tower, Rogers Centre, Queen’s Park, the Eaton’s Centre, Pearson Airport or Yonge Street. And, if you were to take a snapshot of any of those locations during morning, noon or night, you’d undoubtedly see orange and green cars at each of them, the trademark colours of Beck Taxi cabs, transporting people from one location to another.

As an integral and iconic part of Toronto since founder Jim Beck put the very first car into service back in 1967, Beck Taxi boasts the city’s largest taxi cab fleet – and by a considerable margin – ensuring there will always be a taxi available in your area for the quickest possible service, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Now, 48 years later, Beck Taxi employs 200 people in its offices, making it the largest fleet of taxi cabs anywhere in North America, which is beyond impressive, considering that such a broad geographic landscape includes substantial urban centres like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston.

Jim Beck’s granddaughter Kristine Hubbard is the Operations Manager at Beck Taxi who, along with her father and mother, is largely responsible for the day-to-day running of the company. Beck now has just over 2,000 taxis in its fleet, continuing a pattern of robust growth during the past decade.

“In 2012 we had 7 million calls, 2013 was 7.5 million and 2014 was 8 million and we’re projecting 8.5 for this year,” Hubbard tells us.

People often like to guess how the contrasting bright orange and green colours of the vehicles came to be. Hubbard doesn’t believe her grandfather had any specific reason for selecting the unique colour scheme, other than people would be able to easily see a Beck taxi from a mile away.

It used to be that there were occasional times when the business would be somewhat downtempo, but Hubbard says the stream of fares is actually quite steady all day long, every day at this point. Peak hours are most often Saturday nights, but it’s become the norm to have all radio channels operating just about any day or time of the week.

“We have 13 radio frequencies and 13 dispatchers and on the floor we would most usually have about 20 call takers,” she says.

In 1985, Beck Taxi had a noticeable growth spurt, expanding from 25 cars to more than 200 and although that was a monumental achievement for the business, Hubbard says she feels the company really turned the corner, so to speak, once they had reached 500 cars on the roads, with the past 10 years having provided the largest growth period overall.

The fundamental success garnered by Beck Taxi throughout the years can be attributed to its unbridled commitment to the community at large, and in providing the very best in customer service. It’s about being available when called upon and jumping in when you are needed and knowing that you have to be able to really think outside of the box while potentially dealing with as many as 5,000 different taxi drivers in 2,000 cars. Hubbard says Beck Taxi essentially has two customers.

“We’ve got the customer in the back seat and we’ve got our customer in the front seat,” she remarks. “We have to remember that they hire us to do a job for them and we have to be here. It’s a 24-hour industry. Taxi drivers work hard and they need to know that we’re working hard in this office as well.”

A driver must first be trained and licenced by the City of Toronto before they can apply to work with Beck Taxi.
“They must register with us before they are approved to drive an orange and green car. We don’t own the cars so we don’t necessarily hire the drivers but the agreement when someone brings their taxi to Beck and hires us as their marketing company, we do have expectations because the brand belongs to us,” Hubbard says.

Upon registration a working file is opened on every single driver, which currently stands at more than 10,000 in total. Additional training is provided by Beck Taxi and feedback is always welcomed, both good and bad. Hubbard says having that knowledge is what helps determine the steps that need to be taken in order to constantly improve the business. Upholding the excellent name of the brand is crucially important. As such, it’s an agreement when a vehicle comes to Beck Taxi that the drivers who are operating those vehicles be properly licenced and insured and also expectations of excellent service and to maintain Beck’s outstanding reputation in the marketplace.

The management at Beck Taxi is always striving to work with drivers and find ways for them to succeed and help out if they are struggling in one form or another. All taxis are owner-operated, they are just not all owner-driven, which Hubbard says has been a frustrating misunderstanding about the industry.

“The person who owns the vehicle is maintaining the vehicle and is hiring drivers on it,” she says. “They can’t drive 10 cars but they have a garage and mechanics and they’re fixing the cars and offering an important place for new drivers to go for entry-level positions. Some people think the owner has nothing to do with the business and it’s just not true.”

Another thorn in the side of the taxi cab industry was the implementation of the immensely controversial Ambassador Program back in 1998. Hubbard says there has been positive improvement but it’s been a painful improvement for many drivers. Beck Taxi management has been very involved in trying to encourage the City to convert Ambassador permits to Standard plates so that Ambassador drivers can enjoy the same rights and freedoms as other business owners in our industry. The fact that there is a two-tier system is wrong for so many reasons.

“What we are finding now is that some of the bylaws have changed. Ambassadors are now allowed to hire drivers and they can now sell or transfer their licence. The only thing that keeps them different from a Standard plate is the fact that they have to still drive,” Hubbard explains.

The regulation in place for the past 17 years is that an individual can only own one taxi licence. A licenced taxi driver who does not own a plate is eligible to purchase one, assuming one becomes available and an agreement on the selling price can be reached.

“It’s a myth that some people or families own hundreds of plates. That simply does not exist,” Hubbard continues.
The taxi cab industry is also much like many other business sectors in the 21st Century – in that it is directly impacted by the presence of burgeoning technologies. Beck Taxi introduced Toronto’s first ordering taxi app in April 2012, which allows people with smartphones to request a taxi. It has been unbelievably successful and already downloaded by about 200,000 people, which for a local app is nothing short of astronomical. Since then, the app has evolved and Beck Taxi has introduced new enhanced features, including the ability to pay through the app using a credit card or PayPal.

The amazing success of Beck Taxi can be witnesses through the many public accolades received through the years, including its being consistently ranked No.1 in the annual Readers’ Choice Awards.

“It’s now 20 years in a row and we’re obviously very proud of that. You get a sense that we are an important part of the many different communities in the City and very often the taxi drivers live in those communities. I think it’s great for them to see the Beck brand is being celebrated in the neighbourhoods they may live in,” Hubbard says.

Beck Taxis, as with all other public transit systems in Toronto including streetcars, buses, subways and other taxi companies, are all licenced and regulated. But now, Uber, a relatively new player has entered the arena bringing with it no shortage of controversy. As of this publication it’s still not known whether Uber will become a permanent presence in Canada’s largest city or be chased away, but it has been making headlines recently with representatives meeting with Toronto officials. Hubbard is astonished that this rogue service is allowed to simply come in and impose its will and openly disregard the rules and regulations.

“It’s been very clearly established that these (Uber) drivers are not insured or properly licenced,” Hubbard begins. “It’s the drivers who are going to be in real trouble if there is a car accident. You hope that nobody gets hurt, but a driver could be faced with insurance fraud.”

At last count, there were more than 160,000 drivers who have been approved to launch a class-action suit against Uber. The company, which got its start in San Francisco, is often referred to as an app-based ride-sharing service. Critics say it’s just a front for what really is an illegal taxi service and that any cab company could easily replicate the app used by Uber. Hubbard believes it’s a lack of knowledge by members of the public on how the taxi industry works that prevents more people from speaking out about the deficiencies of Uber and the infringements it’s making on the entire taxi cab industry worldwide.

“Nobody would get away with this in any other industry,” Hubbard continues. “A restaurant can’t say ‘we’re not going to have health inspections and we’re not going to pay the required minimum wage’. Everyone would be outraged if a company tried to skirt the rules and regulations in that regard.”

Another 300 new licences were put onto the streets of Toronto this year, Uber notwithstanding. Also as of this year Ambassadors are now permitted to hire drivers so there are those 1,400 additional vehicles with the potential of being on the road 24 hours a day. Most large cities in North America use a basic formula to determine if there is a need for more taxi licences. Generally it’s one cab for every 1,500 residents. Right now in Toronto, for licenced taxis, there is one for every 500 people.

“We have this glut of licensed transportation vehicles. Now we bring in the unlicensed bandit cabs flooding the streets of our city,” Hubbard says.

Beck Taxi is widely regarded as the industry leader in taxi cab transportation in Toronto and it’s a title Hubbard expects to keep for many years to come. She says some of the keys to success will be offering continued excellent customer service along with new alternative servicing options such as new technology, which will not only maintain the business but help propel it forward.

“For example, with our app you don’t have to put your credit card in if you don’t want to. Flexibility in our business is what attracts people. We’ll be adding new features to our app that will further differentiate us from our competition.”

Servant Dunbrack McKenzie & MacDonald LtdOntario Good Roads Assocation