The head of Uber’s ride-hailing operations in Canada is warning that regulations have to be balanced against the popularity of the service as Toronto wrestles with the appropriate amount of training for such drivers.
General manager Rob Khazzam said that any rules have to be “representative of the times,” pointing to the example of GPS as technology that makes it less important to test drivers on their knowledge of geography.
“To preclude people from accessing that economic opportunity [driving for Uber] because they haven’t memorized every route in Toronto, I don’t think is very progressive,” he said Monday at a media briefing at Uber’s lab in Toronto.
“We really need to think about the cause and effect of regulation, and again, it’s about balance: What common-sense principles and regulations can we have that allow people to get to where they’re going safely.”
Ride-hailing was made legal in Toronto in 2016 but the regulations allowing such operations are under review by city staff. One aspect being considered is whether such drivers need more training, an issue that gained resonance after Nicholas Cameron, a passenger in an Uber, was killed in a collision in March of 2018.
According to a survivor of that incident, the driver was confused about how to get to the airport and then dropped his phone on the floor. The crash came as he attempted to pull back onto the highway after retrieving it. Mr. Cameron's mother, Cheryl Hawkes, has since urged publicly that driver training be improved.
“You don’t balance the popularity of the service against safety; there’s no comparison,” she said Monday. “Why is the city so timid about making [training] a requirement? Is Uber going to pick up its marbles and go away?”
Mr. Khazzam’s approach echoed one voiced recently by the head of Lyft, the other major ride-hailing player in the country.
“Anything that can be done to increase public safety while also maintaining flexibility for drivers to find this kind of work should be done,” Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer told The Globe and Mail in a phone interview. “I don't think those things are at odds.”
The question of driver training in Toronto was made an explicit part of the current regulatory review after a city hall motion in December, introduced by Councillor Mike Layton, that was unanimously adopted.
“Our job as a city council and our number-one priority should be public safety and [in 2016] we removed what was recommended by city staff, which was to have driver training, and opted for absolutely no training whatsoever,” Mr. Layton said Monday.
“I’m not saying the training needs to be the same that it was before, just that there needs to be something there so the city of Toronto, so city council can say, look, we did our job as a regulator to ensure that these drivers are trained.”
With a report from Josh O’Kane