Among those lobbying at Metro Hall this week were Mitch Grossman
, the city's biggest plate holder, and Peter Regenstrief, a $325-an-hour lobbyist retained by the plate holders.
"My father had a vision," says Grossman's son, Mitch
."My dad's vision was that he
would buy up taxi licences, and that some day they would be valuable."
Not only did Grossman
amass the city's biggest collection of cab plates, but he
helped spearhead key moves that would make them valuable.
Along with his brother-in-law, Irving Oilgisser, Grossman
operated a cab company called Robinhood.
and Oilgisser worked hard running taxis - but their real business was cab plates.
50 years in the cab business, which ended with his death in 1993 at age 69, Grossman
was a defining figure.He
was known as "the toughest man in the cab business," a ruthless negotiator and demanding boss.He
was 6 feet tall and weighed 250 pounds, a formidable man with a booming voice and a quick temper.
Every morning at 4:30, Grossman
would go to Fran's Restaurant or the Mars diner, driving his signature red Cadillac with custom plates lettered SAM 111.
says the system is here to stay.
"The government has allowed a plate to become an asset," he
is one of several companies controlled by Mitch Grossman
, holder of the city's biggest collection of cab plates.Combined, these companies hold 70 plates, according to corporate records obained by The Star in May, 1997. Grossman
also controls at least 172 other plates as the city's biggest "designated agent."The plates he
holds or controls yield rents estimated at about $1 million a year.
Haji, on the other hand, has nothing to show for his
labours but two maxed-out credit cards, an apartment he
can barely afford and no pension.
Like many drivers, Haji slipped into the cab business.He
came to Canada from Iran in 1987, hoping for a better life.But when he
had few options outside cab driving, Haji bought his
ow car, believing that would allow him to get ahead.
Instead, it has become a trap. His
costs have mounted, even as revenues have declined; fax machines, courier services and changes in ridership have cut taxi use.
Despite that, the price of renting a plate has gone up every year.Just a few months ago, Haji's monthly plate rent was raised from $925 to $995.
After six years, he
feels worn down by the industry's hopeless economics.
"I know that every business has its complications," he
In an interview with The Star, Grossman
doesn't own a single taxi in the commonly accepted sense of the word, even though dozens - including Haji's - are in the names of his
The financing was done through Symposium Finance and Management Services, owned by Grossman
Haji's car, for example, cost $11,000 when it was purchased from Grossman
.Haji says he
could have bought a similar car for about $9,000 elsewhere, but then Grossman
wouldn't have given him a plate.
"What can you do?"Haji says."I don't have a plate.If you want theirs, you have to play the game."
When asked to respond to specific allegations by drivers, including Haji
did not return calls.
and family - 72 plates.Estimated gross plate lease revenue, $864,000 a year.
...In his tailored suits and year-round tan, Grossman has the look of a Bay Street executive or the owner of a successful software company.
is the king of the Toronto taxi industry, heir to an empire that lifted his
family from poverty to privilege in a single generation.
At 40, Grossman
lives a life no cabby could dream of.He
drives a black BMW 740 IL, list price $93,000.He
lives in a newly bought North York luxury home.His
last house, where he
lived for years as Mayor Mel Lastman's next-door neighbour, was purchased without a mortgage. Grossman
has never driven a cab.And even though there are at least 62 taxis in his
companies' names, he
doesn't actually own any of them - at least in the usual sense of the word.
has made millions from the cab business.
And no one has more plates than Grossman
. According to municipal and corporate records obtained by The Star, Grossman and other members of his family, including cousins, hold 94 cab plates.
At today's prices, those plates would sell for $8.46 million and yield gross annual rents of more than $1.1 million.
Until recently, the family's collection was far larger - as high as 145 plates, according to municipal transfer records examined by The Star.Those records show that Grossman
mother and sister have sold 51 plates since 1993.
For years, the list of plate holders has been confidential.
...Grossman, for example, doesn't have a single plate listed in his name, yet municipal records as of May show he held at least 70 through five corporations: Robinhood Taxi Ltd., Lo-Jo Holdings Ltd., Mitch and Associates Taxi Ltd., Whitedoor Cab Ltd., and 373031 Ontario Ltd. (Grossman says the records are outdated and he owns only 62 plates.)
Twenty-four more plates are held by his
mother, sister and a cousin, again through named and numbered corporations.
Grossman's power in the cab industry is magnified by his
role as the city's single biggest "designated agent," representing at least 172 plates owned by other people.
Agents are middlemen who manage plates, allowing holders to collect rents without any involvement with the cabs that carry their names, or the drivers who operate them. Grossman
plays a much more active role in the business than most.As well as being Toronto's biggest plate holder, he is also the operator of a number of companies, including Royal Taxi, one of the largest dispatch services in the city. Grossman's
operation is on Sherbourne St., south of Queen.Outside his
office is a constantly changing line of used cars available for sale.Many are used police cruisers, the vehicle that has become almost standard issue in the Toronto taxi fleet.
Used cars are just one component of Grossman's
also owns a service station, a towing company (Hallam Garage), a lease operation (Tudor Leasing) and a finance company (Symposium Financial and Management Services).
As the man who controls close to 10 per cent of the city's entire plate supply, Grossman
wields considerable power.
spoke recently to The Star.At his
office, which is decorated with family photos, he
described himself as an above-board businessman whose greatest pleasure is watching his
three young sons play sports.
"We want our side of the story told," he
It's clear there is a lot of money to be made in Grossman's
various operations.According to cabbies interviewed by The Star, getting one of Grossman's plates usually requires joining his
dispatch service, at $400 a month.
Then there is financing.
refuses to comment on specifics of his
dealings with individual drivers, but confirms the existence of under-the-table payments.
"I know it happens in the business, but I don't do it," he
Asked if his
company charges interest rates of 20 per cent and more, Grossman
"couldn't believe it would be that high.
"It's hard for me to say whether it's true or false without knowing . . . the business etiquette involved." Grossman
says offering cars and financing to drivers is a service: "The average cab driver can't walk into a bank and get a loan for a car.
says the real problem is bad law-making and weak enforcement that allows old cars and unlicensed taxis to stay on the road.
"There are a lot of rogue drivers out there," he
says the way to get old cars off the road is to institute age restrictions for cabs.
Many are passed along by plate holders to their heirs - as in the case of Grossman
and members of his
Few return their plates to the city.Instead, they are sold on the open market to the highest bidder.
father "had a vision" of the potential in cab plates.
"My dad was a very intelligent man," he
was always having visions.
"My father worked hard for everything he
got.Nobody ever gave him anything for nothing."
HEIR TO FORTUNE
According to municipa