Anti-Uber taxi drivers clear Queen and Bay after rush hour protest

After blocking the intersection of Queen and Bay Streets for much of the afternoon Wednesday, dozens of Toronto taxi drivers cleared the street after learning they had been granted a meeting with the city's police chief.

Cab drivers blocked intersection despite Mayor John Tory's entreaties not to

Taxi drivers clear Queen and Bay Streets after blocking the intersection for hours during their anti-Uber protest. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

After blocking the intersection of Queen and Bay Streets for much of the afternoon Wednesday, dozens of Toronto taxi drivers cleared the street after learning they had been granted a meeting with the city's police chief.

The protesting cabbies moved to the sidewalk shortly before 7:30 p.m. Mayor John Tory had tweeted moments earlier that he had asked Chief Mark Saunders to agree to meet with the city's taxi drivers if they in turn cleared the intersection by 7:30 p.m.

Police had been keeping a close eye on the blockade, which remained peaceful despite earlier skirmishes. By late afternoon, officers were handing out tickets to cabs parked in the street near the intersection.

Earlier, Beck taxi company had asked drivers to stop their protest and allow evening commuters to move through the downtown core.

"I am calling on all taxi drivers to stand down from today's protest and to allow evening commuters to make it home without any added frustrations," Kristine Hubbard, operations manager at Beck, said in a statement, noting that the company's drivers are independent contractors.

"We understand their frustration," Hubbard went on, "but plead that they end their protest now."

Saunders, speaking to reporters around 4 p.m., had said police would make a decision soon about whether or not to clear the intersection. Police never moved in to forcibly clear the crowd.

Saunders said he was disappointed by Wednesday's protest, which left one of his officers injured.

"I'm strongly suggesting the taxi industry change their playbook," Saunders told reporters at a news conference.

He also told cab drivers that today's actions won't help their cause.

"If you think that putting the public at risk is going to change those laws … I think you're in the wrong city," Saunders said.

Earlier Wednesday, Mayor John Tory asked taxi drivers taking part in the city-wide protest to "stand down" and halt a demonstration that earlier in the day led to a dangerous confrontation between two cab drivers and caused a police officer to be hurt. 

"There is no excuse for putting the safety of the public at risk, for blocking ambulances and first responders, for police officers being knocked to the ground," Tory said at a news conference, as thousands of protesting cab drivers filled Nathan Phillips Square outside city hall.

He, too, had asked the protesters not to continue through the afternoon rush hour.

"These tactics are unacceptable, they are dangerous and they do a disservice to the drivers who I know are working very hard and are struggling," Tory said.

The mayor said city staff are working to update rules that will address the concerns of traditional cab drivers while bringing services like Uber under the city's regulatory wing.

"The point has been made," said Tory of the protests.

In her statement, Hubbard said drivers' frustrations are "boiling over" due to a "lack of leadership on this file from our civic leaders.

"Bylaws aren't being enforced. The independent drivers who work with us have been playing by the rules and they don't see any effort being made by the city to deal with the illegal competition that is hurting their livelihood so much," she said.

'Fighting for our livelihood'

Earlier in the day, hundreds of taxi cab drivers descended on downtown Toronto to protest ride-hailing service Uber in a mass demonstration that at one point turned dangerous. 

Shortly after sunrise, taxi and limousine drivers began to gather at four locations outside the city core before heading into downtown. By 9 a.m., long lines of cabs were rolling slowly through downtown streets, sounding their horns. Lines of cabs slowed traffic on highways outside the city.

At one point traffic was stopped near Queen's Park. 

From there, cabs moved to city hall where one cab driver got into a dangerous confrontation with an UberX driver. The man banged on the window of a white Honda, then grabbed onto the Uber driver's side mirror.

With the man refusing to let go of the car, he was pulled about 20 metres down Bay Street before he released the car. The man, who said he was a cab driver with 22 years of experience, was unhurt. 

Sajid Mughal of the iTaxi Workers Association told CBC News the actions of the cab driver amounted to "unacceptable behaviour" but also said it shows the level of desperation among traditional cab drivers. 

Officer struck, sustains minor injuries

Also during this morning's demonstration, a police officer was struck by a cab. Police say the officer was hit at the intersection of Yonge Street and Manor Road. He was taken to hospital and treated for minor injuries. Police said one person was arrested in the incident, but did not say if that person was the driver of the cab.

Police also said some charges have been laid for unnecessary slow driving. 

Mughal said the taxi drivers' protest is necessary to let Toronto residents and members of city council know that Uber and services like it are a threat to their business. 

"We are fighting for our livelihood, we must take some action right now," said Mughal. "We have been suffering for almost a year, if we don't take this action, this suffering will carry on. We must stand up and say enough is enough, this is illegal activity."

Mughal estimated that Uber has cut earnings of traditional cabbies by more than 40 per cent. He said today's protest was directed mainly at Tory and members of city council in a move to get them to "stop this illegal activity."

Council reviews Uber rules

In September, Toronto city council asked city staff to develop new rules to accommodate Uber in its taxi and limousine bylaws, with an added request that Uber cease operations until those rules are established.

The motion compelled the city's Licensing and Standards Committee to revise its rules, with an aim to create "a level playing field" between traditional cabs and Uber, which has upended the city's ground transportation industry since it launched in 2012.

Uber has continued to operate, and traditional cab drivers have complained Uber and other ride-hailing services are making a deep cut into their bottom line while flouting city bylaws.

Taxi drivers block the intersection of Bay and Queen Streets during their anti-Uber protest on Wednesday, December 9, 2015. (David Donnelly/CBC News)

Traditional cabbies are particularly concerned about UberX, a mobile app that connects passengers with unlicensed vehicles-for-hire. 

Tory has said he wants to find solutions that will allow Uber to continue operating, but some of his council colleagues believe Uber has skirted regulations and should not be trusted.