The fate of Uber's future in Toronto is in the hands of an Ontario Superior Court judge – but even if he decides to shut down the popular ride-sharing mobile app, users shouldn't expect the service to disappear overnight.
Court hearings in the fight between the City of Toronto and Uber concluded Tuesday, with the Silicon Valley-based ride-sharing company laying out its case for why it should be allowed to continue to operate. But, given that the case has been closely watched at Toronto City Hall and by lawmakers across Canada, the judge said Tuesday that he fully expects the issue to go on to Ontario's Court of Appeals – and thus will not likely order any sudden shut-down of the service.
"I'm under no illusions the buck will stop here," Ontario Superior Court Justice Sean Dunphy said Tuesday. As a result, he added, "were there to be an injunction, it would not be couched in a way to throw chaos into the system until the Court of Appeals has a chance to look into it."
Uber Toronto's general manager Ian Black would not say whether the company might appeal a decision, but said the company is "certainly committed to a long-term future in Toronto."
Tuesday's events represent a blow to the city's efforts to immediately shut down the UberX service, which allows ordinary drivers, and not licensed taxi drivers, to pick up fare-paying passengers. Justice Dunphy's comments also mean that, regardless of how he decides, Uber will likely have more time to work with city councillors and Mayor John Tory – who has expressed support for regulating Uber – toward potential new regulation for the service.
"I think there is an opportunity for this to be taken up by City Hall and for regulations to be made," Mr. Black said Tuesday. "And we're certainly willing and very ready to sit down and go through that process."
The case comes as Toronto city council – and lawmakers around the world – struggle to regulate Uber. The company says it is not a taxi service but a technology company, and thus does not follow local regulations concerning insurance and licensing.
Just last month, Toronto city council voted to temporarily delay debating taxi licensing or Uber until after the outcome of the court case.
Throughout the two-day hearing, Justice Dunphy appeared increasingly critical of the city's arguments, repeatedly questioning whether the case should be heard in court and whether he is being asked to do the job of politicians and lawmakers.
And while city lawyers argued that UberX is an illegal taxi brokerage, Uber lawyer Julie Rosenthal countered Tuesday by saying that unlike a brokerage, which engages with passengers and actively accepts ride requests, the technology only connects passengers with drivers – and that the drivers are the ones accepting requests.
Though Justice Dunphy indicated that he, too, is doubtful Uber fits within the definition of "taxi brokerage," he appeared less convinced at the company's argument that to shut down its operations would be to limit its Charter rights – specifically its freedom of "commercial expression."
"Is that really what the Charter is about?" the judge asked Uber's lawyers at one point. "Are we trivializing the Charter?"