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It's hard to stop Uber if you can't find the drivers, officials say

Hamilton city councillors have voted to outlaw any Uber drivers who don't have commercial insurance on their vehicles, and to seek a court injunction if they continue anyway. But both politicians and officials at city hall admit there's no real way to stop them.

City will try to stop drivers who don't have commercial vehicle insurance

A taxi driver protests Uber in Toronto on June 1, 2015. Hamilton city councillors voted Wednesday to outlaw any Uber drivers who don't have proper commercial insurance, although city officials admit there's no real way to stop them. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Hamilton city councillors have voted to outlaw any Uber drivers who don't have commercial insurance on their vehicles, and to seek a court injunction if they continue anyway. But both politicians and officials at city hall admit there's no real way to stop them.

City councillors voted Wednesday to ban Uber drivers who don't have the same commercial insurance as local taxi drivers.

But Ken Leendertse, who's proposing a new licensing category that would see the ride-hailing service pay $50,000 a year to operate here, says it's hard for the city to actually enforce it.

It can't even find who the drivers are, he said. Even the 32 charges the city has already laid are languishing in court.

"You can't just stand on the road (and spot them) because you don't know who the vehicles are," said Leendertse, the city's director of licensing and a former senior officer with Hamilton Police Service.

None of this is worth the paper it's written on unless we can enforce them, and we can't.- Coun . Sam Merulla

The only way to actually catch drivers is to use the Uber app to hail them, he said.

And once they know someone is bylaw enforcement, they block the account associated with the person's credit card.

"The challenges in the enforcement avenue are difficult," Leendertse told city council's general issues committee. "It becomes a very difficult process and a very limiting process."

City councillors have spent many hours debating what to do about Uber, a ride-hailing service that has prompted mass protest from local cab drivers. About 40 taxi drivers attended the meeting Wednesday.

Proposed $50K per year licensing fee

Leendertse's team presented a draft licensing bylaw, which would subject ride-hailing companies with more than 50 drivers to an annual licensing fee of $50,000, plus a $20,000 dispatching fee.

The city will get public input on the new licensing category over the summer and present a final version to city councillors in the fall.

The new licensing bylaw would require drivers with ride-hailing companies to get police checks and annual Ministry of Transportation inspections. It would also require cars to be clearly marked.

We look forward to continuing our work with officials and city  councillors  in Hamilton.- Susie Heath, Uber Canada

Taxi drivers, meanwhile, pay as much as $10,000 per month for insurance, said Jagtar Singh Chahal, CEO of Hamilton Cab. They also pay an annual licensing fee and undergo mandatory annual training through the city.

Current taxi drivers could help the city identify Uber drivers, he said. "There are Uber drivers sitting in Hess Village."

A new licensing category wouldn't create a completely level playing field between Uber and the taxi industry, Leendertse said.

'We still could have the wild west'

"We're hoping to get something that works for the industry and makes it as close as possible, but we are talking apples and oranges."

"We still could have the wild west," he said. Uber could ignore the licensing schedule and "we'd be in the same situation."

Sam Merulla, the Ward 4 councillor who moved to get court injunctions against illegal drivers, acknowledged that enforcement is hard.

"None of this is worth the paper it's written on unless we can enforce them, and we can't," he said.

He hopes Uber comes to the table to work out a licensing law, he said. And city staff say the company is willing.

Uber 'continuing our work' with Hamilton

"The alternative is to shove it underground where it's going to continue regardless," he said. "That's been proven internationally."

For its part, Uber Canada says it's been working with the city, and "across Canada to update rules for ride sharing," said spokesperson Susie Heath.

"We look forward to continuing our work with officials and city councillors in Hamilton to modernize regulations to encourage innovation, put people first and create safe, reliable and affordable transportation options," she said in an email statement.

Cities across Canada have been grappling with how to deal with Uber and other ride-hailing services. 

Toronto, for example, just voted against creating a separate licensing class for Uber. Ottawa just established one

Hamilton city council will ratify its decision at city council next week.

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