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Canada Toronto UberX drivers face licensing charges as city works on regulation

Even as the City of Toronto moves toward regulating Uber, bylaw officers are cracking down on the ride-sharing service, filing 72 charges against UberX drivers.

The city's licensing director, Tracey Cook, said on Tuesday that 36 UberX drivers face a total of 72 charges in Toronto. About half were laid in the past few days, after last week's city council decision to crack down on the ride-sharing company as city staff work to create new regulations to govern the service.

The charges facing UberX drivers relate to operating an unlicensed limousine and failure to submit a vehicle to the city's licensing division for approval. The charges carry fines between $300 and $500. Uber Canada spokeswoman Susie Heath said the company will pick up the bill.

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"Isolated cases of ticketing date back to our initial launch of uberX in Toronto and should be sized up against the over 20 million rides that are now completed on an annualized basis in the City," she said in a statement.

The crackdown comes amid ambiguity surrounding the service in Toronto and around the world.

Uber, which launched in Toronto in 2012, operates in 57 countries. The UberX service allows ordinary drivers to pick up passengers for a fare.

The city's argument that Uber is operating an illegal taxi company was dismissed earlier this month by an Ontario Superior Court judge, who said Toronto's bylaws do not adequately cover new technologies such as ride-sharing.

In his decision, Justice Sean Dunphy made clear that the bylaws' definition of "taxicab" does not apply to UberX vehicles.

As a result, the city's most recent charges against UberX drivers are related to operating a "limousine" illegally. The bylaws define a limousine as "any automobile, other than a taxicab … used for hire for the conveyance of passengers."

Also as a result of the court decision, council has voted to update the bylaws and bring Uber within its regulations. A report from city staff on possible new regulations for Uber is due in September.

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And in a move aimed at appeasing the city's vocal taxicab industry – council also asked city staff and police to crack down on Uber in the meantime.

"The law is the law," Mayor John Tory said on Tuesday when asked why the city is enforcing laws that may soon be changed. "Until it's changed, it is the law," he said.

Still, enforcement against the company has proven difficult, especially given that many of the city's and the province's regulations surrounding vehicles for hire were written to deal specifically with licensed taxicabs. Toronto Police attempted a crackdown on UberX drivers in March – laying 22 charges against 11 drivers – but half of those charges were dropped in court.

A spokeswoman for the city's licensing department declined to discuss the city's investigation tactics related to Uber. But in court records filed late last year by the city, Ms. Cook described the use of undercover bylaw officers – and outlined the difficulties.

"One of the major difficulties for the city is that when city enforcement staff register user accounts and request Uber rides, those accounts are deactivated by Uber as soon as it identifies that those user accounts led to charges under the municipal code," she wrote.

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