A key city hall committee voted against legalizing Uber in Toronto late Friday, a symbolic move that lays the groundwork for what is expected to be a heated debate at council next month.
The vote came after the city's new taxi and Uber rules got a rough ride over two days of emotional and at times aggressive debate, as all sides voiced displeasure with the proposed regulations. Members of the taxi industry lined up to criticize the proposal. And so did Uber, which, partway through the proceedings, issued a submission that questioned several aspects of the new rules for ride-hailing service.
The licensing and standards committee eventually voted 5-1 Friday evening to approve a comprehensive package of reforms for the ground transportation industry, but also to delete dozens of them that would bring Uber under the law.
The issue now heads to council, which is expected to debate it in early May. At that time, councillors can, if Mayor John Tory can cobble together a majority, vote to reinsert any or all of the deleted clauses.
"We listened to people, and we're sending to council," said Councillor Jim Karygiannis. "Now if council decides, in its own wisdom … [to] overlook the work of the committee, well, so be it."
Fellow councillor and committee member, Giorgio Mammoliti, predicted a "tight" vote at full council.
"It's going to be a very close vote and the alliances on all ends of the spectrum have to be justified," he said. "And the best way to do that is politically and in council."
The arrival of Uber has roiled the city's taxi industry. Cabbies say they make far less money now, and the once-coveted taxi plates have plummeted in value, with the highest price paid for one in 2015 not quite half what it was in 2013.
As written, the complicated new rules drafted by city staff would allow Uber to operate and reduce the regulations for taxis, which would keep a monopoly on being hailed on the street.
Nearly 100 people came to city hall Thursday and Friday to register their opinion on the new rules. The majority were supporters of the taxi industry and tensions occasionally boiled over. Several people were ejected, city staff and politicians were repeatedly insulted and some in the audience hissed and jeered when people took the podium to make positive noises about Uber.
Uber did not send company executives. On Friday, though, it issued a formal response to the proposed rules, raising concerns with several of them. In its submission, Uber said there was no reason to restrict the age of its drivers' vehicles to no more than seven years. It also questioned the proposed fees for drivers and raised doubts about its willingness to share data with the city.
"They're going to try and make the city capitulate even to the lowest standard, and that is not acceptable," said Councillor Janet Davis. "You know, this is so typical of Uber. They want it their way, no other way. They've plowed into this market, they have ignored the rules and they're trying to make up their own rules."