The City of Hamilton’s efforts to level the playing field between Uber and the taxi industry are imperfect, to say the least, at least so far.
Last week council heard from the city licensing director about what changes could be in store to at least reduce the unfair advantage Uber now has. Separate licensing fees for “personal transportation providers” are one measure. Rideshare vehicles would require Ministry of Transportation safety inspection and approval. Drivers would require police checks. Rideshare cars would have to be clearly marked.
Taxi drivers would see less regulation under the new regime. They would not require driver training as is now the case. They could operate in a “hybrid” model when customers reserve using a smartphone app. But the playing field will be far from level even under the new rules, assuming they are adopted after a consultation period this summer. Taxi fees would still be regulated. Cabs would still legally require cameras. Taxi insurance rates would still be higher than what Uber drivers will pay.
This is not an easy road for the city to walk. Other Ontario cities are going through the same thing. That raises the question of where the province is in all this. It has a private member’s bill from former Conservative leader Tim Hudak that tries to bring appropriate regulation into the sharing sector. But that bill is stalled after two readings, still waiting to get before a committee for deliberation. In other words, it sounds like the province is dragging its feet.
The province needs to turn up the heat on the issue, as the province of Alberta has done. It developed and passed into law new rules that require insurance protection to be in place by July 1 and police checks for all rideshare drivers. Significantly, the new Alberta regulations also require all vehicle-for-hire drivers to have a valid commercial driver’s licence. The latter point is a major problem for Uber, which says it cannot operate under that rule. Uber has temporarily withdrawn services in Edmonton to ensure it is complying with the new rules, particularly the one about valid and adequate insurance being in place.
Here in Ontario, the agency that regulates insurers gave Aviva Insurance permission to develop a product that will cover ridesharing. That insurance offering is the first of its kind in Canada and will no doubt be adopted elsewhere. So we effectively have an insurance solution before the province has moved on regulation. Premier Wynne, step on the gas here, please.
It’s understandable that the city and province don’t want to rush regulation into effect. But it’s even more understandable that taxi drivers are getting increasingly frustrated. Uber is eating their lunch and they don’t have equitable access to the business. This needs fixing and soon.