Waterloo Region needs a bylaw to regulate ride-hailing services like Uber and can't afford to wait any longer for the provincial government to take action, says regional councillor Jane Mitchell.
Mitchell, chair of the region's licensing and hearings committee, says that with no sign of any regulating measures from the Ontario government, it's time the region put in place its own "vehicle-for-hire" bylaw, bringing taxis, limousines and services like Uber and Lyft under a single legal umbrella.
"Uber is presently illegal and [it] has been here since July. As far as the people who are doing the legal thing, which is the taxis and the limousines, particularly the taxis– they're getting very concerned that Uber gets [a] free ride and is going into their livelihood," Mitchell told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris on Tuesday.
- Taxi drivers protest Uber's arrival in Waterloo Region
Mitchell says the region had hoped to implement a bylaw by Jan. 1, but councillors decided to wait to see if the province would take action before then.
'A bylaw no matter what'
But as taxi drivers grow increasingly concerned about potential customers choosing unregulated options at their expense, Mitchell says it is no longer possible for the region to wait for an Ontario-wide law.
"I think we're still going to need a bylaw no matter what they do," Mitchell said.
But unlike in Toronto where a group of council members recently declared Uber's lower-cost service UberX illegal, Mitchell says she does see the value of the ride-hailing app in Waterloo region – as long as it is regulated.
"The hospitality industry has brought up what I thought is a very good point, which is that they feel there is a shortage of taxis for instance around Oktoberfest or when people get out of the bars," she said. "There's a thought from them that the part-time vehicles for hire – whatever those may be – would be good."
One of the benefits of Uber entering the market is that customers are increasingly able to move away from paid meters, according to Mitchell.
"When it's pre-booked, even a few minutes before, you really don't need a meter in the car. So that's the major change," she said.
And while meters would likely still be necessary when physically hailing a cab when getting off a train or bus for example, Mitchell the distance between the way that taxis and Ubers operate is growing smaller too.
Apps are the new meters
"Now even taxis have an app that's very Uber-like," she said. "That's sort of the new meter."
The region is currently looking to see how Edmonton and various US cities have regulated the ride-hailing services. Mitchell says the eventual bylaw could contain elements of those arrangements.
If all goes according to plan, public consultations would take place in March or April and that a bylaw could ideally be in place by May.
"We really need to do something for the people that are law-abiding," Mitchell said. "I think this is something that can just go right to the top and we'll get 'er done."