Committee rejects UberX legalization
Taxi industry celebrates first-round victory
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.