Mayor John Tory calls for updated bylaw to regulate Uber, taxis
Mayor John Tory says modernized laws that would regulate Uber car and limousine services are now “priority number one” for the city.
His call for a single municipal bylaw to oversee all ground transportation, including both taxis and Uber, follows a court ruling that shut down the city’s attempt to ban the mobile app-based service on Toronto streets.
“The Ontario Superior Court ruling was clear: our bylaws, which were written many years before technology had advanced to where it is today, simply do not adequately capture the operations of companies like Uber,” Tory said at a city hall press conference Monday. “And, as a result, what we have to today is not a level playing field.”
The mayor said the city is still considering whether to appeal the judge’s decision. An appeal would need to be authorized by council.
In the meantime, Tory called for an expedited review to start immediately. Major reviews of the taxi industry have consumed city hall, but a renewed push to reverse recent changes was put on hold while council awaited the Uber judgment.
Tory said the plan is to have a new bylaw before council this fall.
“We need to level the playing field,” he said. “We need to have everybody who wishes to participate in this industry doing so within the law, and that means the law is going to have to be changed.”
The mayor said the UberX service, which allows anyone to hail a non-taxi driver for cheaper fares, is operating “outside the current law.” That practice has elicited concerns over both safety and proper insurance from critics in the taxi industry.
He said that model is not “sustainable” and that he would expect enforcement, pending the creation of a new bylaw.
“What we need is one bylaw that applies without question to everybody,” Tory added.
While it was the city that launched the court challenge, the mayor has been sympathetic to Uber’s cause; he said it’s up to the city to update outdated bylaws to acknowledge changes in technology. He said Monday he does not favour any one company and wants a regime that promotes “fair, equitable, convenient, safe service.”
A new bylaw should recognize fair competition and put passengers first, he added.
The mayor called Monday’s meeting, which brought together both sides, significant.
Uber Canada general manager Ian Black said Monday that Uber is looking forward to working with the city on a new bylaw regime, while reiterating that all Uber services are operating legally, according to the Superior Court. (Uber operates different car services: one service enables customers to hail licensed cabs; UberX, another service, allows them to hail non-taxi drivers for cheaper fares.)
“I think it was a good meeting to get all the opinions out around the table,” Black said. “We will continue to serve the City of Toronto, especially during the Pan Am Games.”
While taxi industry representatives said they were encouraged that Tory is calling for enforcement when it comes to UberX, the mayor’s comments appear to have been misinterpreted to mean the service is currently operating illegally.
Tory did not make that distinction, nor did Justice Sean Dunphy’s ruling make such a finding, instead saying that Uber has not breached the city’s current bylaws.
Those opposing Uber have said police and bylaw enforcement officers are not properly enforcing city rules or the Highway Traffic Act. “Nobody is outside the law,” said taxi fleet operator Sam Moini, who added that taxi services expect the current bylaws and Highway Traffic Act to be enforced.
“We can’t expect the wild, wild west to be occurring as it is right now.”
Beck Taxi’s Kristine Hubbard said the company is still concerned about Uber operating unlicenced services at “major” risk to passengers.
“It’s great, all these promises of 'We’ll get it done really quickly,' but during that period Uber will continue to grow and taxi drivers will continue to suffer,” said Hubbard. “How is that a compromise?”
But police spokesperson Mark Pugash pointed to recent Highway Traffic Act charges against Uber drivers, which were dropped.
“We had tickets under the HTA and the courts, the prosecution and the defence agreed that it didn’t come within the Highway Traffic Act,” he said.
“The courts made it clear that it was not the way to go.”
The city’s municipal licensing and standards division says it continues to enforce the current bylaws with respect to UberX, whose drivers it says are still operating as “unlicensed limousine drivers.”
The taxi industry, calling Tory’s push for new rules a positive first step, said Monday that earlier plans to stage a strike during the Pan Am Games have been “taken off the table.”
Tory said he has received assurances that service will operate normally during the weeks-long competition.