Rise of Uber forcing Canadian insurance companies to adapt

As debates continue in municipalities across Canada over the legality of Uber's ride-hailing service, its enormous popularity is prompting Canadian insurance companies to introduce coverage for drivers carrying paying passengers in their personal vehicles.

'Insurance needs to keep up,' broker says. 'This is not your grandfather's taxi'

One of the issues consistently raised by opponents of UberX, including taxi drivers, is the question of whether or not the ride-booking service is properly insured. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

As municipalities continue to debate the legality of Uber's ride-hailing service, UberX, its enormous popularity is prompting Canadian insurance companies to introduce coverage for drivers carrying paying passengers in their personal vehicles.   

"Insurance needs to keep up," Adam Mitchell, president of Mitchell & Whale Insurance Brokers Ltd. in Whitby, Ont., told CBC News. "It's one of the stodgiest old industries, that hasn't innovated and hasn't been totally disrupted yet."

But that disruption now appears to have arrived, Mitchell says, pointing to the growing "sharing economy" that is, among other things, affecting the way people use cars and taxis. 

"This is not your grandfather's taxi," he said of services like Uber and Lyft. 

In October 2014,  the Insurance Bureau of Canada issued a warning that drivers without commercial coverage who use their cars to carry paying passengers were in violation of their personal insurance policies and could be denied compensation in the event of an accident.

But the commercial coverage required for taxi drivers is prohibitively expensive for people trying to earn a few extra bucks driving their personal vehicles for Uber, Mitchell said. 

Insurance broker Adam Mitchell is interested to see how Intact Financial and Uber provide insurance coverage to all UberX drivers. 'They're taking the bet that ... the premiums of the many will cover the losses of the few.' (Submitted by Adam Mitchell)

Last September, Intact Financial and Uber announced they were working together to develop an insurance plan "designed exclusively for the ride-sharing industry in Canada."

Earlier this week, Intact Financial spokeswoman Stephanie Sorenson confirmed in an email to CBC News that the company had been "working proactively with insurance regulators in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec since August to develop simple and affordable products that fit the needs of Canadians.

"We are optimistic that products will be approved in these jurisdictions soon," she added. 

New entrant 

At this point, however, another provider has already beat Intact, at least to the Ontario market. On February 1, Aviva Canada became the first company in the country to offer "personal coverage for ride-sharing drivers." 

Aviva spokesman Glenn Cooper said there are 16,000 ride-sharing drivers in the Greater Toronto Area alone. 

"That was 16,000 drivers out there going around without the proper coverage, which essentially means without coverage," Cooper said. 

To be eligible, drivers must have an existing personal policy with Aviva, Cooper said. The company uses information like driving record, vehicle type and claims history in the area to calculate the cost of a "simple extension of that policy" to cover them while carrying customers. 

CBC News obtained a copy of a document containing Aviva's pricing information and calculated it would cost between $33 and $230 per month for drivers to add that extra coverage to their policies, depending on factors like their driving record, what city they are driving in, and whether they have customers up to 10 hours a week or up to 20 hours a week.   

Aviva does not cover ride-sharing for more than 20 hours a week, Cooper noted.

"A good majority of people doing ride-sharing were doing so on a part-time basis to supplement their income. And that was the market that we were interested in getting into," he said, adding the product is not meant for people who want to drive commercially full time.     

That appears to differ from the insurance program proposed by Intact Financial and Uber, which would cover all Uber drivers, according to a statement from Sorenson.

"Intact's proposed product includes both a commercial and personal lines component. It will provide Canadians who participate in ride-sharing with coverage that is simple to use, affordable and comprehensive," she said. "The proposed commercial policy, which will be purchased by Uber, will cover all Uber drivers under one policy."

"We are also proposing to make adjustments to Intact Insurance and belairdirect [a subsidiary of Intact Financial] personal auto policies to allow ride-sharing." 

Uber has liability coverage

Uber has repeatedly responded to accusations — often from municipalities and the taxi industry — that its customers are at risk because its drivers aren't insured properly by saying every ride is "covered by auto liability insurance with Uber's current insurance provider."

According to a sworn statement by an Uber Canada manager in May 2015 in an Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Uber has liability insurance for up to $5 million to cover "third-party bodily injury and property damage" with AIG Insurance Company of Canada. 

That policy is set to expire on May 8, 2016, according to the statement. 

'In the event of an accident during an UberX trip, ride-sharing partners are covered by commercial auto insurance in addition to any insurance coverage maintained by the driver-partner,' an Uber spokesman said. (Chris Helgren/Reuters )

As an insurance broker, Adam Mitchell is happy that insurance companies are accommodating the growth of ride-hailing services, and he offers Aviva's policy through his own brokerage in Whitby. But he is also concerned Uber has not been transparent enough in the past about what's actually covered — especially when it comes to collision damage to drivers' cars.   

"Every Uber driver you drive with thinks they're insured because they've been told 'every ride is insured,'" Mitchell said. "So they might not know the physical damage if they crash their car is not covered."

The fact that Uber is now working to develop ride-sharing insurance in Canada reinforces the murkiness of the issue, he said. 

"Wait a second, Uber. You just told me every ride was insured, but now you partnered with Intact to come up with a solution? A solution to what? You've told me there's no problem," Mitchell said.

When asked about the new policy, Uber spokeswoman Susie Heath said in an email that it was "an innovative insurance plan specifically tailored for ride-sharing in Canada" and that it was looking forward to "continuing our work with Intact Financial and regulators across the country to bring this new plan to market." 

Uber did not respond to a follow-up email request for more specifics about whether the company would be paying for both collision and liability insurance for its drivers under the new plan, or if it would be selling coverage to them.   




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