Toronto

New taxi, Uber rules get long debate at city hall

Members of the city's licensing and standards committee debated a contentious slate of recommendations Thursday that will change how taxis and the ride-hailing service Uber operate in the city.

Draft regulations expected to change before council debate on May 3-4

Taxi drivers made their voices heard at city hall on Thursday when the licensing and standards committee mets to discuss new regulations for the taxi industry and Uber. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Members of the city's licensing and standards committee debated a contentious slate of recommendations that will change how taxis and the ride-hailing service Uber operate in the city.

More than 100 speakers were slated to appear before the committee on Thursday.

Thursday's meeting was the first time some councillors were able to ask staff about the draft regulations. The recommendations, revealed last week, would loosen the rules for the taxi industry but also allow Uber — and its UberX program, which allows anyone to operate their personal vehicle like a cab — to keep operating, albeit with some new requirements.

​City staff have been working on the rules throughout the winter, which was marked by taxi protests demanding Toronto ban Uber.

Mayor John Tory voiced his support for the regulations when they were released, saying they create a level playing field. But he wasn't among the six councillors questioning staff about the new rules on Thursday.

Taxi industry representatives who spoke at the meeting said city staff missed the mark by proposing to loosen some of their rules.

Paul Sekhon of the Taxi Workers Association said if cab drivers no longer have to attend mandatory training, won't have to use snow tires and are no longer required to speak English, they will "look incompetent."

"If I was a passenger and heard that I wouldn't want to get into a cab, either," he said.

Industry spokesperson Sam Moini said the proposed changes would impose "a sub-par standard on our industry.

"You want to make sure they're safe," he said. "Not having proper inspections, not having proper insurance...not having cameras. These are things we innovated for years and now we're moving back the hands of time because of this company."

Other drivers said that while they compete with Uber, the company is forcing taxi companies to rethink how they operate.

"The ones who are fighting are old-fashioned," one driver said at city hall. "They should move to the new fashion."

'Let's deal with it'

Coun. Jim Karygiannis, a vocal opponent of Uber on council and vice chair of the committee, said Thursday that it's time for debate to conclude and for the city to decide what to do about Uber.

"This has been something that's been going around forever and ever and ever," Karygiannis told reporters at city hall on Thursday.

"Let's deal with it. Let's make sure that we have the proper procedures in place. At the end of the day it's all about safety."

Karygiannis has put forward several amendments to the proposed regulations designed to, as he said, level the playing field for taxis and Uber. He is calling for Uber cars to have cameras, as taxis do, as well as snow tires. He also wants an end to surge pricing, when Uber hikes its rates during storms and other events that lead to a high demand for its service, and wants all cars to have proper taxi plates.

Karygiannis also wants the city to have oversight of the Uber fleet, meaning the vehicles would be required to go to a city garage for inspection twice a year.

One councillor who doesn't sit on the committee said she expects the regulations to change before the entire city council gets to vote on them on May 3-4.

"I can assure you it will not come out the other end in the form it's in," Coun. Janet Davis told CBC Radio's Metro Morning last week.

Here's a look at some of the highlights from the report, which you can read in full here:

Fares:

  • Taxi brokers can offer discounts to people who call or use their mobile or internet applications to hail cabs.
  • Fares will not change for people who hail cabs on the street or who use taxi stands.
  • There was no mention of curtailing Uber's surge pricing.

Mechanical inspections:

  • Any 4-door vehicle less than seven years old can be used as a taxi, a limousine or an Uber car.
  • Taxis: still required to get semi-annual inspections at city-run garages.
  • Uber: required to get annual inspections at any garage in the city that meets the city's requirements.
  • The city is recommending that it undertake a separate review that would look into the feasibility of allowing taxis to get their vehicles inspected at any garage in the city that meets the city's requirements.
  • Taxis will not be required to install snow tires every winter.

Licences:

  • Replace the existing taxi and limousine driver licence classes and create a "vehicle-for-hire" licence for Uber and limousine drivers.
  • Changes to ambassador taxis, Toronto taxis and wheelchair-accessible taxis, which includes changes that would come into play when selling and owning the vehicles.
  • Taxi drivers must pay a yearly $290 fee for their licence.
  • Uber drivers must pay a yearly $10 fee for their licence, but 20 cents per trip will be paid to the city.

Background checks:

  • Require criminal background checks for all drivers.
  • Checks on Uber drivers must be done by Uber, and the city said it would audit the company to make sure it is completing the checks successfully.

Insurance:

  • Cabs are currently required to carry $2 million in collision and passenger hazard insurance — Uber drivers will be required to do the same.
  • Uber drivers will also be required to carry $5 million of commercial general liability insurance.

Accessibility:

  • Increase accessible taxi fleet by 25 per cent by 2021 by issuing licences to drivers on the wait list (this could be up to 200 more vehicles).
  • Waive licence application and licence renewal fees for accessible cabs, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016.
  • Waive training fees for drivers of accessible cabs.
  • Incentivize Uber drivers by requiring non-accessible cabs to pay a fee and ensure that accessible vehicles have comparable wait times to accessible vehicles from taxi services.
  • All vehicle-for-hire (Uber) drivers complete a training program.

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