Review: Fare Game: Life in Toronto’s Taxis (Theatre Passe Muraille/The Toronto Taxi Collective)

Theatre Passe Muraille presents Fare Game: Life in Toronto’s Taxis, a play shedding light on Toronto’s taxi industry

I don’t own a car so I occasionally use taxis to get around. I’ll hail a cab, let the driver know where I’m going, proceed to check my smartphone for most of the trip, pay the fare and leave. Taxis are so commonplace in Toronto that we don’t really think much about them or the people who drive them for a living.

However, if we peer just under the surface we’d see an industry fraught with conflict and struggle and an arcane system of licensing that’s leading to all out class warfare.

Fare Game is written and performed by The Toronto Taxi Collective: Ruth Madoc-Jones, Marjorie Chan, and Alex Williams. The three artists spent two years researching and developing the piece. They conducted extensive interviews with drivers and the major players in the industry, attended meetings and rallies, and also filmed hours of interviews and taxi rides.

The result is a documentary-style show blending live performance with video footage; an exposé of an industry in turmoil that many Torontonians just don’t know much about.

The key issue explored in the show is that of Toronto’s two-tier taxi licensing system. Older standard plates (licenses) allow for more than one driver and are transferrable. They’re bought and sold in the free market and can fetch north of $300,000. Plate owners can then rent out their plates to drivers for a profit.

Newer “ambassador” plates, issued since 1998, are intended to move the industry to an owner-operator model. They’re rented out by the city and are non-transferrable; a driver can’t even have somebody else drive their cab when they’re sick.

The show explores the unintended result of the two-tier licensing system and how pitting wealthy, mostly-white, standard plate owners against working-class, and mostly non-white, ambassador plate holders leads to huge inequities in the industry. Along the way, the show also explores drivers’ lack of rights and benefits as well as the health hazards and dangers of the job.

The emotional climax of the show is the video interview with Khalil Talke a driver who was stabbed in the neck while working on Valentine’s day of 2011. While Talke survived the attack, the non-transferability of his ambassador license meant he could neither drive nor rent his taxi to another driver when he was recovering and had no means of making an income to support his family.

Madoc-Jones, Chan and Williams examine their subject with the keen interest of investigative journalists. The trio often deliver the material with the upbeat style and tone of kids delivering a book report in front of the class which makes the subject accessible and also gives the right level of detachment and successfully avoids proselytizing on emotional issues.

As they told the stories of these cab drivers I kept thinking about my own parents and how they had come to this country and had to struggle and work menial jobs to provide for us and give us opportunities to succeed in life. I thought about how unfair it was for taxi drivers. How will they be able to provide a better life for their children when the deck is so heavily stacked against them?

Fare Game is presented as part of Theatre Passe Muraille’s Theatre Beyond Walls season described as “a Toronto building project … designed to stimulate and engage people in our city.” I commend Theatre Passe Muraille for the theme of this season and for programming shows that hold a mirror up to our city and ourselves.

If you’re at all interested in Toronto’s civic affairs, labour, class or race issues or if you’re a fan of documentaries in general Fare Game is definitely something you should check out.

Details:

  • Fare Game: Life in Toronto’s Taxis is playing from November 16 – December 8, 2012 at the Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto.
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
  • Tickets $15 – $35
  • Tickets are available in person at the Arts Box Office (16 Ryerson Avenue), by phone at 416-504-7529 or online at passemuraille.on.ca.

Photo of Alex Williams, Ruth Madoc-Jones, Marjorie Chan by Aviva Armour Ostroff.