Toronto Mayor John Tory is teaming up with one of council's most vocal Uber opponents to ensure that regulation of the ride-sharing company will be debated at City Hall this week – even if the two do not see eye to eye on what the resulting regulation might look like.
As tensions about Uber within the taxi industry threatened to "boil over," the mayor seconded a motion on Tuesday by Councillor Jim Karygiannis to ask council to debate later this week the idea of updating Toronto's by-laws to regulate the Silicon-Valley-based company. If that motion passes, city staff would return to council in September with options on how new rules might work.
But while Mr. Karygiannis – a staunch supporter of the taxi industry – said he would like Uber drivers to operate under the exact same rules and licensing requirements as taxis, the mayor did not rule out the possibility of emulating many U.S. cities and creating a distinct category within those regulations for Uber.
The taxi industry has been incensed since the company launched its UberX service – which allows ordinary drivers to use their private vehicles to pick up fare-paying passengers – in Toronto last year. UberX drivers operate outside the long list of regulations and licensing requirements that apply to licensed taxis. An Ontario Superior Court ruling that UberX is not an illegal taxi service further inflamed the situation.
The frustrations have led to mass protests by taxi drivers in recent months, and a threat last week by cab officials to "shut down" the streets during the Pan Am Games if officials do not crack down on Uber. And while the taxi industry backed away from those comments this week, they continued to hint at the possibility on Tuesday.
"If we do not get enforcement, the pot's going to boil over. And we don't want that to happen," Toronto Taxi Alliance spokesman Sam Moini said on Tuesday. The city's licensing director, Tracey Cook, meanwhile, said by-law officers are preparing a crack down on Uber, but did not provide details.
Mr. Karygiannis said he would like UberX drivers to be subject to the rules for taxis – including training, commercial licenses and insurance. He would also like a cap on the total number of taxis and Uber vehicles on the road.
"One set of rules that apply to everybody throughout the entire industry," Mr. Karygiannis said of how he sees future co-existence between the services.
But while Mr. Tory, too, spoke of "one bylaw" this week, he left open the possibility of creating a distinct category for Uber.
When asked about the regulatory scheme many U.S. cities have for Uber – a category known as "transportation network companies" (TNCs) – the mayor said he would not rule out any options. "I'm not going to presume as to the exact structure of the regulatory regime that is put in place," he said on Monday.
In 2013, California became the first U.S. state to create separate rules for Uber-like services, recognizing them as different from taxis. Some of the rules passed in California's TNC laws are similar to those already imposed on licensed taxicabs (and Uber drivers) in Toronto – including requirements for criminal background checks and vehicle inspections.
But California's law also addresses one of the most controversial aspects of Uber's operations in Toronto: insurance. Many UberX drivers here use personal insurance topped up by the $5-million in insurance provided by Uber.
California's law specifies that from the time a TCN driver is logged onto the app, he or she must be covered by the company's insurance policy, and not private insurance.