Com­mit­tee re­jects UberX le­gal­iza­tion

Taxi in­dus­try cel­e­brates first-round vic­tory

Toronto Star - - GREATER TORONTO - BETSY POW­ELL CITY HALL BUREAU

The city’s li­cens­ing com­mit­tee has re­jected staff rec­om­men­da­tions that would open the door to le­gal­iz­ing the pri­vate ve­hi­cle ser­vice UberX in Toronto.

“We won round one,” shouted a taxi in­dus­try sup­porter af­ter Wed­nes­day’s marathon ses­sion in Toronto City Hall coun­cil cham­ber. The meet­ing was moved there to ac­com­mo­date a long list of speak­ers.

Coun­cil has fi­nal say and could over­rule the com­mit­tee.

Uber Canada’s Xavier Van Chau wrote in an email that the com­pany re­mains com­mit­ted to work­ing with coun­cil on a reg­u­la­tory frame­work “that sup­ports in­no­va­tion and con­sumer choice as sug­gested by rec­om­men­da­tions by city staff.” The email ac­cused com­mit­tee mem­bers Gior­gio Mam­moliti and Jim Kary­gian­nis, both city coun­cil­lors, of en­gag­ing in the “re­lent­less bul­ly­ing” of UberX driv­ers who ad­dressed the meet­ing. It shows they are “clearly out of touch with the vast ma­jor­ity of Toron­to­ni­ans,” Van Chau wrote.

On Wed­nes­day, Kary­gian­nis and Mam­moliti re­peat­edly grilled UberX driv­ers for not hav­ing com­mer­cial in­sur­ance, not pay­ing HST and skirt- ing reg­u­la­tions de­signed to pro­tect the public.

“I think I did my job,” Kary­gian­nis said in re­sponse to Uber’s crit­i­cism. “Hard ques­tions were asked that needed to be asked.”

He in­tro­duced the mo­tion to kill the staff pro­pos­als re­lat­ing to Uber. “Now we have to con­vince the rest of the coun­cil­lors that a level play­ing field is a level play­ing field.”

The li­cens­ing com­mit­tee ap­proved parts of the staff re­port that pro­pose to change the def­i­ni­tion of taxi to in­clude tech­nol­ogy-based bro­ker­ages, such as Uber, and en­sure they are within the ex­ist­ing frame­work of taxi reg­u­la­tions. As well, the com­mit­tee sup­ported a staff rec­om­men­da­tion to re­duce the pas­sen­ger “drop fee” from $4.25 to $3.25, as well as a fur­ther 10-per-cent re­duc­tion in the over­all fare, ef­fec­tive Nov. 1.

Coun­cil­lor Josh Mat­low was the only com­mit­tee mem­ber who sup­ported the full staff re­port, say­ing the re­al­ity is “Uber ex­ists . . . whether one likes that re­al­ity or dis­likes that re­al­ity.”

He said if coun­cil adopts the full re­port, it will en­sure UberX driv­ers are in­sured, li­censed and guided by a cer­tain set of rules, even if dif­fer­ent from con­ven­tional cabs.

“They’re go­ing to con­tinue do­ing what they’re do­ing al­ready, in other words the sta­tus will es­sen­tially re­main,” Mat­low told the com­mit­tee, not­ing that the ser­vice is “in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar (among) peo­ple in this city.”

Coun­cil­lor Frank Di Gior­gio, how­ever, said he won’t en­dorse an ap­proach that en­cour­ages “un­har­nessed, un­con­trolled, un­bri­dled pri­vate en­ter­prise” that will cause “great harm” over the long run.

“The mes­sage that I don’t want to give any­body . . . is that we, as a city, re­ward peo­ple who break rules, notwith­stand­ing what qual­ity of ser­vice they pro­vide,” he said.

“The public in­ter­est is not guided by what peo­ple want,” Di Gior­gio said. “We, as politi­cians, can­not de­liver ev­ery­thing that peo­ple want.”

The com­mit­tee also asked coun­cil to di­rect the mu­nic­i­pal li­cens­ing di­vi­sion to “im­me­di­ately im­ple­ment and en­force the adopted rec­om­men­da­tions, in­clud­ing, if nec­es­sary, ask­ing coun­cil, through the bud­get process, for ad­di­tional ded­i­cated by­law of­fi­cers to en­sure ad­her­ence to this by­law.”

De­spite the win, Toronto’s taxi in­dus­try hasn’t de­feated Uber en­tirely.

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