Mayor John Tory has opened the door to a council debate on Uber, as one of Toronto's largest taxi brokerages launched an ad campaign aimed at women and questioning the ride-sharing company's safety policies.
At City Hall on Tuesday, Mr. Tory succeeded in having council put off changes to Toronto's convoluted taxi licensing system until it can also look at Uber – which is currently entangled in legal action against the city. The council decision, in effect, ensures the ride-sharing technology will be on the agenda for future discussions on taxis.
But while the 31-13 vote represented a big win for Uber and the mayor, it came on the same day as the launch of a major ad campaign against the company.
"Friends don't let friends take uberX before asking the right questions," says an ad placed in women's washrooms in more than 100 bars and restaurants across Toronto, according to Co-op Cabs CEO Peter Zahakos. UberX is the company's service that pairs ordinary drivers, and not licensed taxi drivers, with passengers.
"Basically, we're saying 'think about what you're doing. If you're going to call for a vehicle to transport you, look into it, make sure you're getting in a safe vehicle – not an unlicensed driver,' " Mr. Zahakos said in an interview.
The ad echoes criticism aimed at Uber for flouting local insurance and licensing by-laws. But it also nods at several incidents of alleged sexual assault of women in cities around the world by Uber drivers.
Uber Canada spokesperson Susie Heath said Tuesday she hasn't yet seen the ads, but doubted they would resonate with riders.
She said "the reality is that the taxi industry's fear mongering tactics don't resonate with riders and drivers," in an e-mailed statement.
On the Uber Canada website, the company touts its safety policies, saying it conducts criminal background checks on all drivers.
The City of Toronto filed for an injunction against Uber late last year, arguing the company does not abide by the city's taxi regulations, and the case is set to be heard in courts this month. But on Tuesday, Uber applied for a taxi brokerage licence with the city (though not for UberX), with Ms. Heath saying the company wanted to demonstrate its "commitment to collaboration."
The court's decision, Mayor Tory said, will be an "important moment." And to make decisions on taxi licensing before that, he said, would be to deal with the issue in a "piecemeal" way.