20,000 people are calling on city council to bring back training for taxi, ride-sharing drivers
Nicholas Cameron's family says he died, in part, due to scrapped safety standards for drivers
Nearly 20,000 Toronto residents are calling on the next city council to bring back driver training for taxi and ride-sharing drivers in the wake of a local man's death after an Uber ride in March.
On March 21, Nicholas Cameron, 28, hired an Uber driver to bring him to the airport. The driver pulled onto the left shoulder of the Gardiner Expressway to pick up his cell phone from the floor of the car before merging back into traffic, and the car was hit from behind by a vehicle driving at full speed — breaking Cameron's neck.
"It was just so easily preventable," Cameron's brother Patrick told CBC Toronto on Friday. "The driver was so unqualified. He wasn't familiar with the city at all. He wasn't confident on the highway. Even the most basic safety screening could have weeded this out."
The family launched an online petition a month ago, calling for a "modernized safety testing program for [ride-share] and taxi drivers in the city of Toronto." Tens of thousands have since signed it, and Patrick hopes it leads to a shift back to previous city policies.
Council opted to shelve safety training for both taxis and ride-share drivers back in 2016 by allowing drivers to pick up passengers without a traditional taxi licence. The move came amid heated regulatory discussions surrounding leading ride-share app Uber.
The city "lowered the bar," Patrick said on Friday.
Road safety advocates agree. "We absolutely need to reinstate that driver training," said Nancy Smith Lea from the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation. Training of some form protects both passengers as well as pedestrians and cyclists, she added.
"It was a mistake to scrap it, just to accommodate Uber," Lea said.
Uber open-minded to 'any and all' training
Amid the growing calls for safety testing, the general manager of Uber Canada appeared on Metro Morning to explain what his company is doing to keep passengers safe.
Rob Khazzam called Cameron's death "tragic" but would not say if Toronto should reinstate the scrapped 17-day training course for taxis that Uber had lobbied to have removed.
"At the time, we really felt … that the technology that ride-sharing could bring, the types of features that it can utilize, were really superior or could be more effective than the prior practices we saw in place," said Khazzam of Uber's push to have the city ditch the training course.
"As an example, we use telematics, the ability to measure the rate at which drivers break and accelerate, to assess their driving efficiency or driving safety."
While cities like New York or Montreal require drivers to take a road safety test, in Toronto, drivers are only required to have a licence, fewer than nine demerit points, and no major convictions.
But Khazzam said that Uber was open-minded to "any and all" types of training imposed by the city.
He added that Uber had added more safety features, including allowing app users to submit safety concerns about drivers, triggering an Uber investigation team to look into the driver.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Uber's main rival, Lyft, said the company "has worked hard to design policies and features that protect both drivers and passengers."
Toronto consultations have wrapped up
This fall, Toronto launched a series of public consultations aimed at reviewing regulations around vehicle-for-hire services, including Uber and Lyft, which wrapped up this week.
The city is also conducting its own research, and a report with its findings will head to the next city council in 2019.
Mayor John Tory said if he is reelected, he's waiting to see what the study reveals, but didn't rule out bringing back training requirements — despite being among those who voted to scrap them two years ago.
"Safety is, of course, the number one consideration," he said on Wednesday.
His main rival for the role, mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat, took a firmer stance on Friday, saying the city needs to "ensure" it has driver training to keep passengers and pedestrians safe.
With files from Kate McGillivray, Metro Morning