Toronto will allow UberX to operate legally in the city while also cutting regulations for taxis, a decision that came after hours of heated city council debate on Tuesday.
"The public wants to have choices, and they should have choices," said Mayor John Tory, who has pushed for months to bring the controversial ride service under some sort of regulation.
Critics shot back that the decision watered down labour and safety standards while protecting wealthy taxi-plate owners.
Mr. Tory's proposal was tabled as a complicated and lengthy motion running 20 pages. He called it "the closest that we could come" to staff recommendations that were decimated last month by a city hall committee, with some extra changes to secure additional support.
Among the rules passed by council, UberX – where drivers use their private vehicles to transport passengers – will have to raise its base fare from $2.50 to $3.25. UberX vehicles will not need cameras, though that possibility will be studied. And the company's drivers will need only a regular class-G licence, plus a permit from the city.
Changes for traditional taxis include looser rules for training and the right to mimic the so-called surge pricing used by Uber. There will be a report on compensating taxi-plate owners for "investments [that] have been negatively impacted by new market entrants."
An earlier proposal that vehicles be equipped with snow tires was modified to allow for all-weather tires in the colder months. A recommendation that drivers be required to speak English survived Tuesday's debate unchanged, as did the committee's moves to roll back taxi reforms from two years ago, a step that provoked some of Tuesday's sharpest criticism.
"Who doesn't win in the taxi industry? The people who do the work," Councillor Gord Perks said in a fiery speech.
"Yes, there's a more level playing field between the millionaires and the billionaires, but for the consumer, the level playing field goes down. The drivers lose, the public lose, the billionaires and the millionaires win. That's how this city has decided to apportion the benefits of new technology."
Uber's entry to the city has thrust the taxi industry into crisis, and its members have been protesting what they characterize as a threat to their livelihood. Cabbies say that revenues are down and the once-coveted taxi plate has been trading hands for sharply less money than a few years ago.
The long-awaited Toronto council meeting dealing with Uber brought hundreds of partisans to city hall, with both sides eager for some resolution to the rancorous issue.
The stakes of the debate were made clear early, when Tracey Cook, the executive director of municipal licensing and standards for the city, and the staff member leading efforts to regulate Uber, noted the number of people using the controversial ride service.
"45,000 trips per day in vehicles that are outside a regulatory regime," she told councillors quizzing her about the staff recommendations. "This came out of nowhere, and it spread worldwide. ... This has been a huge disruptive change for an established industry."
A city staff attempt to draft regulations for Uber-type transportation got a rough ride last month from the pro-taxi members of the licensing and standards committee. After two days of hearing from public speakers, the committee voted to delete dozens of clauses related to Uber from the staff report, and then passed the remainder.
Previous debates have turned emotional, with members of the public ejected and expletives sometimes hurled at councillors. At the outset Tuesday, Councillor Frances Nunziata, the Speaker of city council, warned that she would not tolerate applause, heckling or other attempts to "take part in the debate." This warning was regularly flouted, with Ms. Nunziata making repeated threats to clear the chamber if interruptions continued.