Toronto coalition calls for stricter regulations on Uber and Lyft

RideFair Toronto is calling for stricter regulations to protect public safety and reduce congestion


A new Toronto coalition made up of transit advocates, environmentalists, drivers and researchers called RideFair Toronto is calling for increased regulations for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Organizers of the coalition held a press conference on December 9 outlining how deregulation has become even more of a concern as the COVID-19 pandemic affects profits for businesses.

“[Ride-sharing services] have actually deregulated and lowered the bar for the sector in a way that is actually detrimental to Torontonians,” says co-founder of RideShare Thorben Wieditz.

Back in 2016, Toronto city council decided to remove training requirements for taxi drivers in an attempt to level the playing field with ride-sharing companies that didn’t have any training requirements at the time.

The city has since reinstated training for all vehicle-for-hire services, after a 2018 car crash involving an Uber driver killed a 28-year-old passenger. Stricter bylaws were implemented in January 2020.

Wieditz also notes that, in some cases, ride-sharing services have been able to operate under different regulations than ride-hailing ones. He points to a 2019 report conducted by the Ryerson Urban Analytics Institute, which found that ride-sharing services in particular were contributing significantly to traffic congestion in the city.

The report noted that taxicabs in Toronto are limited to around 5,000, whereas there are currently around 70,000 Private Transportation Companies (PTC) licences issued in the city, and no cap has been specified.

Environmental groups in the coalition say ride-sharing services are also negatively impacting the environment. The report stated that taxicabs must follow fuel efficiency and emission standards imposed by the city, the 70,000 ride-sharing vehicles can operate unregulated.

“They actually undermine a whole lot of the city’s policy objectives that the city already has on the books with regards to the environment, health and safety standards and road safety,” Wieditz says. “We need to take a close look at what’s happening here and why this is happening.”

Tom Slee is a tech professional who has written a book on gig economy-type services such as Airbnb and Uber. He says part of the reason ride-sharing services have been able to avoid many regulations is due to marketing.

“The whole ride-sharing business started off with the premise of, it’s just people giving rides to each other, hardly even a commercial transaction at all,” he says.

The business model of companies like Uber has enabled them to continue operating by new or altered rules, Slee says.

“What they’ve tried to do is push a lot of the costs that responsible businesses have partly onto the drivers by driving down their wages, partly onto other parts of the system, like the government by not paying taxes,” he says.

Earla Phillips, an Uber and Lyft driver, says she has shouldered some of the companies’ costs.

Ride-sharing companies will increase prices when there’s high demand for services.

“They could charge you as a rider three times the amount and tell us that it’s a regular fare, effectively keeping the up charge,” she says. “The highest surge that I’ve seen through the pandemic is 1.1.”

She’s joined the RideShare coalition because she wants better ride-sharing regulations in Toronto to protect drivers like herself, public safety and the environment.

“It looks like the average right now is $10 an hour, pre-tax and pre-expense. It’s horrible out there right now, and if I had another job, I would leave,” she says. “But I would still fight for drivers.”

Wieditz says the coalition is aiming for policy changes.

“For us, it’s more policy-driven initiatives that engage with the city of Toronto around these questions of creating a sustainable and livable city in the 21st century, one that is not dependent on cars.”

NOW reached out to spokespeople for Uber Canada and Lyft for comment.

“Over 90 per cent of people who drive with Lyft in Canada drive less than 20 hours per week. These are parents who have busy schedules, retirees, students, or individuals who have another full-time job,” a spokesperson for Lyft said in a statement. “They rely on the flexibility ride-share provides to work when they want, where they want and for however long they want in order to supplement their income, and what we’ve seen is that they overwhelmingly want to maintain this flexibility.”

“Ride-sharing offers Torontonians a safe, reliable, and affordable alternative to personal car ownership, helping to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions while providing flexible earning opportunities for those with a safe driving record and criminal background check,” a rep for Uber Canada said in a statement.

@juliajmastro

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