Hamilton

If you can't beat them, licence them: Hamilton set to regulate Uber

Uber will pay $50,000 per year, but drivers still don't need in-car cameras or to provide accessible service.

Uber will pay $50K per year, but drivers still don't need in-car cameras or to provide accessible service

A taxi driver protests Uber in Toronto on June 1, 2015. In Hamilton, city councillors will vote Tuesday on a new bylaw to regulate the service. One taxi operator says it doesn't go far enough. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Hamilton city councillors will vote next week on a new law to charge Uber $50,000 to operate in Hamilton. But local taxi drivers say that doesn't even come close to leveling the playing field.

That's a complete joke.- Anthony Rizzuto, Blue Line Taxi

The fee is part of a new bylaw that would regulate Uber in Hamilton — a service the city has struggled to deal with for nearly two years.

After initially trying to keep the ride-hailing service out of the city and charging its drivers, Hamilton is following the lead of several other Canadian cities that have recognized that is a losing battle. 

City council's planning committee will vote on a new personal transportation providers (PTP) bylaw on Tuesday.

 Under the new bylaw, Uber and other PTP companies with more than 100 vehicles will pay a $50,000 annual fee plus six cents per trip, which will generate about $110,000 a year for the city.

The new law also reduces the annual fee for taxi drivers from $194 to $100, which means a $60,000 loss to the city.

But it still gives Uber other breaks, such as paying $20,000 per year to not provide accessible service. Blue Line Taxi spends at least $35,000 to buy one accessible vehicle, said general manager Anthony Rizzuto.

At one point, the city talked about issuing a court injunction to stop Uber from operating in Hamilton. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

"That's a complete joke," he said of Uber's ability to opt out. "We're obligated by the province of Ontario to provide accessible service."

The new bylaw also doesn't require Uber to have cameras, while taxi drivers pay for their own mandatory cameras, Rizzuto said. The city also reduced the amount of training required for new drivers, but Uber drivers don't need training at all.

First and foremost, it's important we bring them into the realm of licensing.- Coun. Sam Merulla

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor, knows the draft bylaw isn't perfect. But "it's a good first step," he said.

"First and foremost, it's important we bring them into the realm of licensing," he said. And the bylaw can be tweaked over time.

For two years, the city has grappled with how to handle Uber.

The service launched here in July 2015. Six months later, it had 513 drivers and 12,066 active riders. By comparison, the city licences 447 traditional cabs and 1,200 drivers.

For a while, the city tried slapping fines on Uber drivers. It charged 32 people for driving without a taxi licence, which came with a $305 fine. Those cases have been on hold since last year.

The Uber versus Taxi race

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One is in a cab. One is in an Uber car. Who gets to the finish line first? 1:45

The city had a hard time even finding Uber drivers, said Ken Leendertse, the city's head of licensing.

"You can't just stand on the road (and spot them) because you don't know who the vehicles are," Leendertse said last year.

Bylaw officers resorted to calling for Uber cars themselves, but once they were discovered, the service would ban their credit cards.

The city has been negotiating with Uber, spokesperson Ann Lamanes said via email. And the company is on board with paying $50,000 per year.

"In the event that they do not end up paying, they would be in violation of the bylaw and the city would take appropriate action," she said.

The new bylaw creates two categories of PTPs — one for companies with fewer than 100 vehicles, and one for larger fleets. 

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