Toronto to screen Uber drivers by the end of August, city says, as cabbies plan job action

Following an announcement that taxi drivers plan to undertake a job action soon, the city says it will begin screening and licensing individual Uber drivers by the end of August.

'Procedural and electronic changes to the bylaw take time,' municipal and licensing standards director says

The city is working with Uber as it implements bylaw changes, says Tracey Cook, executive director of Toronto's municipal licensing and standards division. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Following an announcement that taxi drivers plan to undertake a job action soon, the city says it will begin screening and licensing individual Uber drivers by the end of August.

The news comes after the United Taxi Workers Association voted to protest what it views as Uber's "unfair" lack of compliance with the city's new bylaws. 

Paul Sekhon, of the United Taxi Workers Association — an umbrella group that represents 3,500 drivers in the GTA — said some form of job action will take place on Aug. 17 at 7 a.m., following a vote last Thursday by some group members, including drivers and fleet operators.

Sekhon says the group wants to see the city do more to enforce a vehicle-for-hire bylaw agreed upon after a lengthy debate in May. That bylaw requires Uber and other ride-sharing companies to apply for a new class of license, called a private transportation company license.

That bylaw took effect July 15, but Sekhon says Uber and others aren't complying, and are currently operating illegally.

'Uber is complying'

The city flatly refutes that claim.

"Uber is complying," Tracey Cook, executive director of Toronto's municipal licensing and standards division, told CBC News in an email Monday. She wrote that the city is working with Uber through the licensing process and that the ride-sharing company has provided the required documentation to the city.

"Procedural and electronic changes to the bylaw take time," she wrote, adding there are currently no instances of non-compliance, so the city hasn't had to enforce the bylaw. 

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

Unlike a dramatic mass demonstration last December, during which hundreds of cabbies descended on downtown Toronto and blocked traffic for several hours, Sekhon says this time drivers want to make sure their action targets the city itself — and in particular the municipal licensing and standards division.

'Not going to target the public'

"Our frustration is not going to target the public," he told CBC News.

That, he says, is why the group chose August 17 for the protest. The Canadian National Exhibition opens just two days later and drivers don't want to negatively impact the many thousands of visitors expected there.

"Our ultimate goal is for private transportation companies to be compliant with the bylaw, and all signs are leading to that goal," Cook said.

Last week, Beck Taxi released a statement saying it "empathizes with the frustrations drivers are feeling and recognizes the drawn-out process to deal with Uber has been time-consuming and exhaustive for many."

However, the company says it does not agree with inconveniencing the public and will be urging its drivers not to participate in any action that would negatively impact residents of or visitors to the city.