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Four things to remember as Toronto looks to regulate Uber

By: Metro Published on Wed Jul 15 2015

When it comes to the city’s ongoing Uber debate, Coun. Jim Karygiannis isn’t helping.

Yesterday, the outspoken Scarborough councillor held a press conference to announce that — per his interpretation of a recent court ruling — Uber users could face a $20,000 fine.

Yes, Twenty-thousand dollars. For climbing into an Uber car. He had signs and everything. Scary stuff.

Most people seemed to disagree with his assertion, pointing out that the section of the Highway Traffic Act he was citing applies to drivers, not passengers. Either way, Karygiannis’ $20,000 warning served only to ratchet up the rhetoric in the city’s increasingly heated debate over Uber and the taxi industry.

Last week, Toronto City Council voted to create new rules for taxis — rules that will include regulations on Uber. It was the right move, but councillors need to be careful not to let the volume of voices (and fear-mongering) on both sides of the issue distract them from what should be the obvious goals of taxi reform: ensuring both drivers and passengers are treated fairly, and are kept safe as they move around the city.

So let’s relax and try to keep things focused. Here are a few things for councillors to keep in mind as the Uber debate rolls on.

1. Uber is not a technology — it’s a company that wants to make money

Anti-Uber politicians like Karygiannis aren’t the only ones brandishing over-the-top arguments. On the other side, some Uber advocates make like the service isn’t a simple capitalist enterprise but instead some sort of benevolent technological breakthrough.

I don’t buy it. Uber is good at PR — what with their puppy delivery service and their well-timed fare cuts — but they’re intent in operating in Toronto primarily because Toronto users are worth a lot to their bottom line. They’re going to make as much money as they possibly can.

Council is under no obligation to help them realize those profits. As Metro's Glyn Bowerman pointed out yesterday, the rules shouldn’t be written to fit with Uber’s business practices. Instead, any regulations should be based on principles of fairness and safety. Let Uber adapt.

2. Taxi brokerages don’t need government protection

Once upon a time, taxi brokerage companies and dispatchers were vital. Without them, passengers had no simple way to get a cab. Brokerages made it so you could call one phone number and have a taxi dispatched to your location.

Increasingly, though, the industry is moving toward one-to-one communication between passengers and drivers through apps like Uber, leaving the old school brokerages without much of a role to play.

And while that’s sad for the cab companies, I can’t figure out why city hall should care about their plight. There’s no obvious reason to carve out a regulatory role for brokerages — let’s focus on the drivers and passengers. Let the brokerages adapt.

3. Accessibility remains important

Before the process stalled, one of the best parts of Toronto’s attempted taxi reform legislation was a move to make Toronto’s entire cab fleet accessible to people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices.

With the new focus on regulating Uber, I worry that accessibility could fall to the wayside…as it too often does. The status quo for accessibility in Toronto is woefully inadequate. It would be a shame to miss an opportunity to make things a little better.

4. It’s OK to look at what other cities are doing

Some Toronto politicians have a frustrating tendency to act like we live in a unique snowflake of a city, where the experiences of other similar-size cities are irrelevant. It’s never been true. Whether we’re talking food trucks or bike infrastructure, the lessons learned in other cities also apply here.

So let’s take a cue from our peers. Toronto is not the only municipality grappling with Uber regulations. There’s a long list of cities that have either passed regulations or are in the process of drafting new rules, from Mexico City to Portland, Oregon.

Learn from those experiences.

This post was originally published at on 2015-07-15T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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