Toronto votes to ditch first-aid training, adopt 'surge pricing' for taxis and Uber

Toronto taxis could compete on Uber's playing field by adopting so-called "surge pricing" when demand is high — or by offering discounts — following a marathon debate and vote by city council that will reshape the industry. But after it was all over Tuesday night, taxi drivers were left bitter and angry.

'I don't think Uber should even be in city': Doug Ford crashes meeting in support of cabbies

A taxi driver demonstrates outside Toronto City Hall. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

Toronto taxis could compete on Uber's playing field by adopting so-called "surge pricing" when demand is high — or by offering discounts — following a marathon debate and vote by city council that will reshape the industry.

But after it was all over Tuesday night, taxi drivers were left bitter and angry.

The debate over new regulations that will govern the city's taxi industry lasted much of the day and was extended past the 8 p.m. deadline after Mayor John Tory tabled more than 100 amendments to the staff recommendations.

As councillors voted they were either cheered or jeered by the hundreds of cabbies and dozens of Uber drivers who packed the visitors gallery.

The city will also create a new class of licence — called a "private transportation company" licence —  that Uber and other ride-hailing firms would have to apply for. That seemed to set off the cabbies who began shouting angrily at the politicians leaving the meeting.

"You sold us out," one man shouted at the mayor. "You sold us out."

No first aid, CPR training

The changes will also see the city eliminate its requirements for drivers to take training programs in order to get a licence — and taxi and limousine drivers will no longer have to take CPR and first-aid training.

There's no word yet on how long drivers who are currently using the Uber platform would be given to get a licence, if the new rules are adopted.

The public gallery in council chambers was at capacity for today's debate. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

City council continued to debate the amendments and the new regulations, voting on each individually and finishing after 9:30 p.m.

Even former Ward 2 councillor Doug Ford was on hand to lend his support to the taxi drivers who looked on as council debated and voted  on the mayor's amendments.

"We don't mind the competition, but it has to be fair," taxi driver Jagpal Singh told CBC News.

Council spent the day debating the more than 100 staff recommendations on taxi industry regulations created in response to the popularity of services like Uber, and the pressure they're putting on cabbies to compete.

"People are taking 45,000 trips per day outside of a regulatory regime," Tracey Cook, the city bureaucrat behind the staff report and executive director of municipal licensing and standards, told council on Tuesday.

Former councillor Doug Ford shakes hands with a taxi driver at city hall. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

Despite the hundreds of people packed in the public gallery, much of the early part of the meeting was subdued as councillors asked Cook detailed questions about the specifics of her report, which includes more than 100 recommendations, including changes to taxi safety rules, pricing and licensing.

"This review has provided the opportunity to refocus and reset the city's approach to regulating the taxicab and limousine industries and to propose the regulation of PTCs (private transportation companies), aiming to establish an equitable and appropriate level of regulation that balances the interests of diverse stakeholders," the report reads.

Uber driver Aristides Vasquez says the service is safe and reliable. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

During his surprise visit to city hall, Doug Ford was vocal in his support of the taxi drivers.

"It's a totally unfair playing field," Ford said regarding current taxi industry regulations.

"I don't believe Uber should even be here. As far as I'm concerned, it's like me driving down the street and picking people up without the proper insurance."

With council chambers packed to capacity with Uber supporters (in blue) and opponents (in yellow), the gallery at Toronto City Hall spilled over into this overflow room. (Trevor Dunn/CBC)

Ford was warmly received by the taxi drivers. The former mayoral candidate shook hands with many of them as he strolled through the public gallery. Last week, he announced that either he or his nephew, Mike Ford, would run for Rob Ford's former council seat after council declares it vacant this week.

But Ford insisted his visit wasn't about politics; he just wanted to show his solidarity with the city's cabbies.  

Uber supporters arrived early at Toronto council chambers this morning wearing blue T-shirts, while their opponents, greater in number, wore yellow.

"I hope everything goes well today and I can go back to work with no worries," Uber driver Aristides Vasquez told CBC News. 

Vasquez drives for Uber full time. He said the service is safe and reliable and that he's even given rides to children without their parents. 

"The parents feel safe because they can follow the route on their cellphone. With a taxi they unfortunately can't do that," Vasquez said.

Traditional cabbies say the rules must be identical for all cabs. Uber argues those rules don't allow the increasingly popular "ride-sharing" industry to grow. Meanwhile, cabbies say that unregulated Uber drivers unburdened by existing licensing rules are cutting deeply into their bottom line. 

Councillors' questions Tuesday covered everything from winter tires and driver training to surge pricing charged by cabs during periods of peak demand. 

Before the debate began, Speaker Frances Nunziata warned gallery members to avoid clapping, shouting, heckling and other outbursts. Despite the warning, a few people were escorted from chambers for cheering. 

Mobile users can follow a recap of the day here

With files from Nick Boisvert


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