By Gail Souter, President
Toronto Taxi Alliance
Toronto’s taxi industry agrees with Uber’s Chris Schafer on one thing: Uber must be regulated.
As a matter of fact, all of the authority required to regulate it exists right now, in Toronto City by-laws section 545 (which govern ground transportation) and Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (section 39.1 which governs public transportation for compensation).
We disagree that Uber deserves its own special, custom-created regulatory category.
UberX came to Toronto one year ago and launched its business deliberately choosing to disregard and ignore every one of Toronto’s by-laws and the insurance requirements of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. This outrageous act of civil disobedience has, astonishingly, been tolerated by Toronto politicians and Toronto police.
Toronto has all the power and authority it needs to regulate Uber right now. However for the past year, it has simply chosen not to enforce its own laws when dealing with UberX, whose drivers provide transportation for compensation in their personal vehicles, an activity which flies in the face of every regulation Toronto has ever enacted to protect public safety. Yet at the same time, it has continued to enforce these bylaws with the legally licenced taxi industry.
Uber, a foreign company, has ignored all of Toronto’s local laws, and is now demanding Toronto re-write its by-laws to satisfy Uber. This is brazen and unacceptable.
The taxi industry in Toronto is subject to hundreds of separate requirements under By-law 545. Either these requirements are important to public safety and need to be followed; or they are no longer necessary and do not need to be followed by anyone. Fair enough: what is not fair is to use these rigorous requirements to commercially hog-tie the taxi industry while Uber is allowed to ignore them.
No one is suggesting Uber should not be allowed to dispatch cars in Toronto; we maintain simply that Uber should follow all the same rules for accountability and public safety that all the other dispatch companies follow.
When Schafer writes “Uber welcomes the opportunity to be regulated and follow the rules proposed by MLS,” he overlooks completely the fact that this regulatory framework already exists, and Uber wants nothing to do with it. Why does anyone suppose Uber would follow this proposed new set of rules designed just for them? Ignoring local regulation is an entrenched part of Uber’s business model all around the globe.
Should Uber next decide to get into providing cheaper bus service on TTC routes, or running cut-rate, discount, uninspected Uber restaurants and bars, will Toronto bend over backwards once again to re-write the rules for Uber?
London’s Guardian newspaper interestingly identifies Uber’s motivation in interfering with city governance:
“A more apt understanding of Uber’s ambitions is that the company wants to be involved in city governance – fashioning the new administrative capacities of urban environments. Rather than follow government rules, like any other utility, Uber wants a visible hand in creating urban policy, determining how cities develop and grow, eventually making the city itself a platform for the proliferation of ‘smart,’ data-based systems.
“While Uber is currently fighting for deregulation, it is misleading to understand this as simply attempting to remove legal barriers to market forces. Rather, it is a process of disrupting political power. And Uber has already established itself as a power player.”
The taxi industry calls upon Toronto politicians to demonstrate political will in enforcing its own existing laws fairly and consistently for everyone. Do not reward Uber’s aggressive stance on flouting the law by writing Uber a law of its own.
The Op Ed above was submitted to the National Post on September 18th in response to Chris Schafer’s work of fiction on September 17th. We can only hope the Post will run it.