Ride-sharing services such as Uber should be legal – and as much as possible, they should be allowed to operate on a level playing field with competing taxis. Neither one should be given an advantage, and neither one should be freighted with unnecessary rules that diminish efficiency, short-change customers and discourage innovation. Toronto's proposed new rules on ride-sharing services appear to be about creating such a level playing field.
Next week, the Toronto City Council's licensing and standards committee will consider these proposals. No doubt, wailing and gnashing of teeth will continue, accompanied by protests and perhaps active road obstructions – hardly an example of good service to the public.
On some points, there will be uniformity. The same insurance rules, safety standards and checking for any criminal background will apply to all drivers. And all their cars will have to be no more than seven years old (or seven "model years," to be precise). But the fee structures for taxi companies and Uber will be different, because the business relationship between Uber drivers and Uber is different from traditional taxi owner-driver structures.
In some ways, taxi drivers will gain from the new rules. For example, they won't have to take training on how to drive (after all, they already have driver's licences, just like Uber drivers). And taxi drivers won't be completely locked into the old monopoly fare structure: If they choose, they will be able to negotiate the cost to passengers – down or up. Traditional taxis will still enjoy a monopoly on "street hails," and also the use of designated cab stands, but most of the rest of the taxi industry's long-standing regulatory monopoly will be opened up.
In essence, the proposed draft rules or something close to it – a "new vehicle-for-hire bylaw" – should be approved and enacted by the Toronto City Council. Mayor John Tory and at least some other councillors are right to have broadly approved the plan.
Toronto being the largest city in Canada, these proposals are going to have an influence elsewhere in the country. They should help overcome reluctance to make major, up-to-date changes in what was once known as the taxi industry. The business of giving people rides for money is ripe for change. There's no justification for treating the taxi business as if its monopoly were carved in stone for all eternity.