Getting around the city can be tough. Public transit in Toronto has a reputation for being frustrating and insufficient and driving is out of the question since parking spots are expensive and difficult to find.
For years taxi services in Toronto and elsewhere operated as an alternative to public transit. Then Uber, a competing service, stepped on the scene offering cheaper rides and convenient payment methods. But is the hype around Uber real? And what’s all the heat surrounding it about?
Uber is a ride on demand service, or “rideshare company”, providing a cheaper alternative to taxi fares. Its innovative smartphone app uses GPS technology to match customers with nearby taxis, limos, or private cars, then allows them to track the journey in real time from beginning to end, and pay the fare without ever having to reach into their wallets.
While Uber seems like a great alternative to the standard taxi, many issues have been raised concerning the legality of Uber’s operations in Toronto. And without a doubt, their appearance in the market has made it harder for standard cab drivers to earn a living.
For most of us, the bottom line in getting from point A to point B is the price. But it’s worth considering a few points in this taxi debate.
Uber vs City of Toronto
In November 2014 the City of Toronto filed a court injunction against Uber on the grounds that Uber has been illegally operating as a taxi and limo brokerage since 2012. However a loophole in old city by-laws, specifying taxi services as ordered over a phone line, has allowed the online-only system to continue to function.
In September 2015, Toronto City Council held a meeting concerning taxi regulation. While Uber was the main reason for the meeting, the debate was focused around demanding a fully regulated system for all taxis in Toronto, and to ensure that Uber drivers and regular taxis are equally regulated and monitored. Up until this meeting, Uber drivers operated without business insurance or proper background checks, and their vehicles had few inspection requirements. This was risky business, as part of the taxi licensing system involves the checking of drivers and vehicles to ensure public safety.
The real issue here may not be the Uber versus the taxi industry debate, but the lack of consistent regulators of all taxi service in Toronto. The existing two tier licensure system has been flawed for years, but city council hasn’t been able to come to a solution to make it fair. Uber’s refusal to operate within established regulations sparks the city's need to create a level playing field for all drivers in the city, whether they are independent Uber drivers or licensed taxi drivers.
The City of Toronto has closed the loophole Uber was exploiting, and asked them to stop operating while new regulations are put into place, but Uber Canada's president, Ian Black, insists that “Uber plans to continue operating in Toronto”. How this plays out is yet to be seen, but while council is mired in the struggle of creating an equal licensing system, it looks like Uber will continue to operate. The Licensing and Standards Committee will return to city hall in the spring of 2016 with revised guidelines.
Have Your Voice Heard
The Uber issue is going to be ongoing for a while still, so keep an eye out for news articles in the coming months to stay informed! If you’re pro UBER, sign the petition. Email your councillor directly telling them know why this is an important issue to you and what they should support.
Author Bio Kalvis Mikelsteins is a third year Ryerson Urban Planning student. His main interests include social planning, healthy urban design, and community consultation. When he’s not studying he likes to cycle in the city, and plays in a rock & roll band. Find him on Ryerson campus if you want to talk city issues, or email him at email@example.com.
Sources & Helpful Links
City of Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards office: