Toronto city council has voted to delay a decision on regulating Uber until next year, and to ask the company to stop operating in the meantime – a request the ride-sharing company has already rejected.
After a raucous debate that included numerous outbursts from members of the taxi industry, council voted 32-12 to ask city staff to further study the idea of regulating services such as Uber – similar to a request already made in July – and come back in spring of 2016 with suggestions. Council also voted in favour of asking Uber to halt its operations until that time.
"I think Uber has a responsibility to the 400,000 riders who rely on us for transportation as well as the 16,000 drivers who rely on us for their income," Uber Canada's general manager Ian Black said Wednesday evening after the vote. "So Uber intends to continue operating in the City of Toronto."
Still, Mr. Black called council's vote to continue moving toward regulating Uber "a very positive step forward" – the motion was brought forward by Mayor John Tory.
"An attempt to ban Uber will not put the genie back in the bottle," Mr. Tory said Wednesday. "These disruptive technologies don't just go away."
The motion was scaled down from city staff's proposal this month to move forward with a specific plan for regulating Uber, known as the "transportation network company" model, and already used in dozens of cities across the United States. That model recognizes ride sharing as distinct from taxis, with its own separate rules, and has received support from Mr. Tory, who described taxis and Uber as "different beasts."
But on Wednesday, Mr. Tory took a softened approach, asking instead for the city to study "a framework to regulate all ground transportation providers …" That request is similar to a motion already passed by council in July for options on regulating Uber, and is likely to continue ambiguity surrounding the service.
Throughout Wednesday's debate, several councillors said that, although they support potentially regulating Uber, they have very different ideas on what that might look like.
According to sources with knowledge of the vote-wrangling at City Hall this week, the mayor's office did not believe it had the votes to move forward with a transportation network company model, and hope that, by delaying the decision, they may bring onside more councillors and members of the transportation industry. They also hope that, in the meantime, there will be developments in Uber's efforts to create an insurance policy specifically for ride sharing.
Since its launch in Toronto in 2012, Uber has operated in a regulatory grey zone and has been a flashpoint at City Hall. Because of the city's antiquated by-laws, an Ontario court decision found earlier this year that Uber is not a taxi service, and that existing taxi and limo rules did not apply to the service. Wednesday's council decision updated some of those rules.
The taxi industry has thus far argued that Uber has an unfair advantage over cabs, by not having to operate under the same rules. The taxi industry has also fought vehemently against a TNC model in Toronto, calling it a "two-tiered system." Over the summer, taxi drivers staged a number of mass strikes to express their frustration. Those same frustrations were evident Wednesday. The meeting drew hundreds of supporters from the taxi industry, who packed the council chamber wearing yellow T-shirts bearing the slogan "No two-tier system." With the room at capacity, scores of supporters gathered in the building's main-floor rotunda, where their loud cheers and jeers floated up into the chamber, often interrupting debate.
The issue also drew sharp exchanges between members of council.
More than once, Councillor Rob Ford stood to grill Mr. Tory on the idea of separate rules for Uber.
"Do you agree that Uber and taxi drivers pick people up and drop people off?" Mr. Ford said. "Why do you feel there should be two sets of rules?" Mr. Tory, in response, accused the councillor of "oversimplifying matters."