On the heels of a landmark Ontario court ruling over Uber, Toronto City Hall is now facing the possibility of an emergency debate as early as Tuesday on regulating the ride-sharing company.
Councillor Jim Karygiannis, a vocal supporter of the taxi industry and opponent of Uber, said he plans on asking city council when it meets this week to allow for an emergency debate to update the city's taxi by-laws to include the ride-sharing service.
The debate would come amidst heated tensions at City Hall over Uber, and in the wake of a lingering threat from the taxi industry to "shut down" the city during the Pan Am Games if officials don't crack down on the Silicon Valley-based company.
On Friday, an Ontario Superior Court judge dismissed the city's attempt to shut down Uber, saying that the city failed to prove that the company's UberX app – which pairs paid passengers with private drivers – operates as an illegal taxi brokerage. That decision has angered the cab industry who argue that Uber, which operates outside of the licensing and insurance requirements imposed on licensed taxicabs, has hurt their business and has an unfair advantage.
Mr. Karygiannis' intent is to update the city's by-laws to increase regulations on Uber so that they match those imposed on the taxicab industry. "I'm saying that Uber has to get into the same scheme of things as the taxicabs," he said in an interview Sunday.
But, by opening up the debate at council, he also risks the opposite happening.
Mayor John Tory, and several other councillors at City Hall, have expressed support for Uber – and the possibility of creating a new set of regulations, distinct from taxis, for the type of ride-sharing service it provides. Cities in the U.S., like Chicago, Seattle and Washington, D.C., already have such laws in place.
In a statement Sunday, Uber spokeswoman Susie Heath said the company welcomes a discussion at council. " "We look forward to continuing to work with Mayor Tory and Council to develop common sense regulations for ridesharing that recognize and support the benefits this new business model brings to riders and drivers."
Regardless of the outcome, Mr. Karygiannis said that having a council debate this week might help soothe escalating tensions between the taxi industry and the city, and prevent the transportation industry from devolving into the "wild wild west" for the rest of the summer. After next week's meeting, council does not meet as a whole until the end of September.
"If it's not now, it'll be in September, and we can't have chaos until September," he said.
Mr. Karygiannis also referenced another potential risk of not dealing with Uber sooner rather than later: the possibility of a taxicab strike. Last week, two taxicab officials who represent thousands of members of the cab industry hinted at the possibility of a massive city-wide taxi strike in protest of Uber, in the middle of the Pan Am Games.
The Games, which begin Friday, are expected to bring 10,000 athletes and 250,000 visitors into the Toronto area.
In response to the court ruling, the Toronto Taxi Alliance, which represents over 2,500 taxi owners and license-holders, repeated its demand for the city to act against Uber. "Toronto has a lot of work to get done to correct this situation, work that should have started when Uber arrived three years ago," the weekend statement read.
In the court decision Friday, Justice Sean Dunphy took aim in part on the city's own taxi by-laws, questioning whether they have been sufficiently updated to deal with technologies such as Uber. As a result, the motion Mr. Karygiannis plans to bring forward this week would ask the city to update its taxi by-laws to include Uber, as well as require the city to regularly review such by-laws.
In order to succeed at council, Mr. Karygiannis would first have to secure the agreement of Speaker Frances Nunziata to move an emergency motion on Uber. If she agrees, he would then need two-thirds of council to agree to have the debate.
He said he has already e-mailed most of his council colleagues, and the mayor, to get their thoughts. At least one councillor – Josh Matlow, who sits alongside Mr. Karygiannis on the licensing committee – questioned having council debate Uber this week.
"I believe the issue should be first considered by committee, which Councillor Karygiannis is a member of, rather than hastily creating policy at council in two days," Mr. Matlow said in an e-mail. "I expect the majority of my colleagues would agree with me."
The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday on the possibility of an Uber debate.
A Globe report in April found that Mr. Karygiannis received thousands of dollars in donations from people with ties to the taxi industry leading up to the 2014 municipal election. But Mr. Karygiannis maintained Sunday that his ongoing support of the taxi industry has nothing to do with those donations.
"This is something right now that is more than the campaign," he said. "This affects the livelihood of the people who are taxi drivers, and the people who are Uber drivers. This is the safety of our constituents."