On Friday evening, the six-member licensing committee, which has largely defended the traditional taxi industry, voted to scrap all of the staff-recommended changes that would legalize competition from services like UberX after 15 hours of public debate and dozens of speakers stretched over two days.
While licensing sent a statement to council that more than half of the 103 proposed rules do not provide a level playing field as promised by Mayor John Tory and as requested of staff, none of the committee’s decisions are final.
Members also voted to reverse several changes, requesting that snow tires for all cars and a command of English for all drivers be mandatory.
Council will now debate the regulations at its next meeting, which starts May 3.
By passing the regulations on to council for final approval, the committee heeded Tory’s urging that the regulations not be delayed. Earlier, Tory said he had spoken to committee members, including chair Councillor Cesar Palacio, who sits on the mayor’s executive, to make that point.
While the report could have been sent back to staff and delayed the debate at council, no one on committee made that move. A majority of councillors pushed for the reforms to move forward.
“I think it’s important to recommend something to council as opposed to just a referral,” said Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who throughout the day Friday vowed to “kill” the report. “Council needs to, whether they like it or not, needs to respect a standing committee.”
The proposed reforms from staff would create two sets of regulations — one for taxis and one for “private technology companies” like Uber. Since the draft rules were released last week, many of those representing factions within the industry that would lose out from sharing the road with Uber — owners of lucrative taxi plates and large brokerages — demanded the report to be scrapped entirely.
By Friday afternoon, it became clear almost no one was completely satisfied with the regulations.
While speakers continued to voice their opposition in front of the committee in city hall’s main council chamber, Uber representatives quietly registered their own concerns.
While Uber Canada did not sign up to speak or answer questions at the meeting, as they have in other cities, public policy manager Chris Schafer sent a 13-page letter to committee members on Friday, which was posted online.
Uber took issue with several key parts of the newly proposed reforms, which creates another hurdle for Tory and those pushing to adopt a new set of rules.
“One too many seemingly innocuous pieces of regulatory red tape that don’t serve to advance a core pillar, such as public safety, risks putting ride-sharing on life support,” Schafer said in his letter.
The items of concern include the requirement that all vehicles be no older than seven years; that vehicles undergo annual, provincially certified inspections; additional fees for drivers; and that Uber share its records with the city to ensure drivers are complying with the rules.
Uber Canada spokesperson Susie Heath later clarified that none of its stated concerns are deal breakers and that even if council ignores them, Uber would not leave Toronto.
Councillor Janet Davis said Uber is trying to skirt regulations meant to protect public safety and accountability.
“This is so typical of Uber. They want it their way, no other way. They ploughed into this market, they have ignored the rules and they’re trying to make up their own rules,” Davis said. “And they’re going to try to make the city even capitulate to the lowest standard and that is not acceptable.”
On the age of vehicles, Uber argued the city provision “unfairly” prevents drivers with cars that are eight to 10 years old — “vehicles in good working condition and with few kilometres” — from working for them.
Uber claimed to have a sufficient process in place to ensure the safety of vehicles, saying cars are already subjected to a 26-point inspection each year and that the provincial inspection proposed by the city is essentially overkill.
The city’s proposal to charge additional fees for drivers is an unnecessary burden, Uber said, requesting it be charged directly to the company instead.
“Separate requirements on drivers deter people who only want to drive a few hours each week and will benefit from this kind of flexible work,” Schafer wrote.
And Uber raised privacy concerns for drivers in sharing data with the city, meant to give licensing staff oversight, with Heath saying they want to better understand “the city’s collection, use and protection of any information that a ride-sharing company might provide.”
While Uber was happy with regulations passed by Edmonton’s city council, they rejected stricter rules from Calgary, including on inspections and fees, and refused to operate there. They’re currently not operating in either city as the province of Alberta looks to increase safety and insurance provisions.
In a statement, the mayor’s spokesperson Amanda Galbraith said “the mayor believes we need new regulations that create a level playing field, provide safe, convenient options to our residents and allow drivers to earn a competitive living.”
“Our focus is not on pleasing one stakeholder, company or special interest, but instead to put the people of Toronto first by providing them with safe, convenient and affordable options to get around this city.”
In the end, she said, council will decide what’s best.
Author: Jennifer Pagliaro