Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Two ways Toronto can deal with Uber cabs, without running them out of town

By: Metro Published on Mon Nov 24 2014

I’ve never had great luck with Toronto cabs.

Way too often, I’ve found myself standing past midnight on a bitterly cold street corner, trying to find a cab driver who will gladly accept a debit or credit card — who won’t tell me his machine is broken.

As a result, I’ve become a big fan of apps that allow customers to both hail a cab and pay the fare with their smartphone. Up until they ceased operations earlier this month, I was an avid user of Hailo. I’ve since switched to Uber, despite some concerns about the company’s reputation.

I like the service. But even as an Uber user, I won’t rush to the company’s defence following news that the City of Toronto is seeking a legal injunction that would force Uber to cease operations.

Uber seems to want to paint this conflict as a simple case of stodgy government bureaucrats clamping down on a popular, modern service.

Its website accuses the city and the taxi industry of “trying to stifle competition and protect their monopoly on Toronto’s streets.” But many of the city’s concerns seem valid.

Transportation staff are worried that Uber vehicles aren’t always subject to the same driver training, inspections and insurance as the rest of the industry. And they’re concerned about Uber employing “surge pricing” that could put the price of rides above set fare regulations.

In fact, point to a random section of the city’s taxi bylaws and odds are Uber is breaking them. The company tries to dispute this by calling itself a “ride-share” company instead of a taxi service, but that fig leaf isn’t very convincing.

Ignoring this conflict can’t be an option. The city didn’t adopt a set of rules and regulations for the taxi industry just for the fun of it. And it plainly would be unfair to existing cab drivers and dispatch companies to force them to comply with regulations while Uber gets to do whatever it wants. But simply running Uber out of town isn’t much of a solution, either. There’s clearly a value to the kind of service it’s offering. If there wasn’t, people wouldn’t use it.

This leaves the city with two paths forward. The first is to tear down the regulations and make for a more competitive and less regulated market. The second is to leave most of their regulations in place and instead, clearly define what kind of service Uber and its competitors can offer within the context of city bylaws.

Neither is a simple solution, but then this isn’t a simple problem. As much as I loathe the idea of returning to nights of cold street corners and cab drivers demanding cash only, city hall can’t ignore that Uber breaks the rules just because people like it.

This post was originally published at on 2014-11-24T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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