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Drive Uber in Hamilton? You could be charged this week

The city expects to lay charges against Uber drivers this week for not abiding by Hamilton's taxi bylaw.

Bylaw officials have been investigating for more than a month

Hamilton's major taxi companies are encouraging the city to follow through with its promise to enforce its own bylaw when it comes to Uber. (CBC)

The city expects to lay charges against Uber drivers this week for not abiding by Hamilton's taxi bylaw.

Enforcement officers have been investigating for more than a month — ever since the ride-sharing service launched in Hamilton in late July, said Ken Leendertse, the city's director of licensing. It expects to have charges finalized this week — effectively making good on an earlier promise to crack down on drivers who didn't abide by city laws.

It wouldn't come too soon for Hamilton's taxi drivers, who wrote to the city on Wednesday. In their letter, they urged the city to follow through on a promised crack down on Uber, a service company they say is cutting into their profits.

Hamilton Cab and Blue Line Taxi wrote to city officials and councillors, saying the city isn't doing enough to enforce its own bylaw.

"The question is why have no charges been laid against the broker and the drivers who are openly flouting the city laws by operating illegally in our city?" the companies said in a letter obtained by CBC Hamilton.

Uber offers a ride-sharing service similar to a taxi company, but it connects drivers to passengers using a smartphone app. That same app also handles the transaction, and no cash is exchanged. The companies argue that they must adhere to more stringent standards — and pay higher overhead costs such as insurance and licensing — than the new arrival.

Taxi drivers aren't against competition, said Larry Di Ianni, who is advocating on behalf of the companies. "They want fair competition."

Spokesperson Ann Lamanes confirmed that there are Uber-related developments at city hall that will likely be announced later this week.

"We are taking the Uber situation seriously with respect to the current bylaw as it stands," she said. "That said, we are open to examining what we can do with the bylaw to incorporate businesses that are part of the sharing economy, and will be looking at making updates in the future after appropriate consultations."

When the service launched in Hamilton in July, the city said that Uber drivers have to follow current bylaws. "If they do not follow them, there will be enforcement action," it said in an email.

Di Ianni said charges would be a step in the right direction. "That's exactly what we want them to do."

The city's bylaw regulating passenger service in Hamilton covers various aspects, from vehicle conditions to driver training, the letter says.

Among the rules: that the broker, driver and vehicle are city-approved. On this point, the letter said, Uber is contravening the law. Current taxi drivers, the companies argue, pay as much as $12,000 per year for insurance, a cost Uber drivers don't have to bear.

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