Mississauga Council pulls stunning reversal
by Mike Beggs
Mississauga Council made a shockingly abrupt about-face at its May 25 meeting, voting 8-4 in favour of Mayor Bonnie Crombie’s motion to move up the starting date for a pilot project for Uber X, and lift a cease and desist order against the rogue ride-booking service.
This came just a week after the City had sternly stated that Uber had until May 25 to pull its illegal Uber X cars off the road, or it would scrap the subcommittee being set up to lay out the parameters of the pilot project.
Taxi operators, and several councillors were infuriated by this U-turn, inspired by a May 24 letter from Uber to the City, and – in an all too familiar turn of events – the results of a survey (by Forum Research) released on the morning of Council (finding that 95 percent of the respondents who had used Uber X were satisfied with its service, compared to 49 percent for taxis).
A harsh critic of Uber, Councillor Carolyn Parrish deemed this “another puffy motion”, and resigned from her seat as vice chair of the City’s Public Vehicle Advisory Committee after the vote.
“I am appalled that a motion so important to our cab industry was done on the fly, in the end,” she told Taxi News. “I don’t think all of the councillors were aware that the final version dropped the caveat that Uber had to stop functioning until the joint committee at least had its first meeting.”
In the letter, Uber GM Ian Black said his company, “remains committed to serving 100,000 passengers and 5,000 drivers within Mississauga, while working with the City on the pilot project.” And fellow Uber spokesperson Susie Heath requested that the start date for the pilot be moved up, stressing that councils in Toronto, Ottawa, and Edmonton have already passed “smart regulations” embracing ride-booking.
While the subcommittee has been instructed to report back by September 21, Uber suggested the pilot project should commence ASAP, with a June 8 starting date. The Mayor shared their enthusiasm for fast-tracking the pilot, because, “We have heard from our residents that they want choice (in ground transportation options).” She recommended a cap of 50 Uber X vehicles for this program.
In putting forward the motion, Councillor Pat Saito stated, “Things are changing on a daily basis. I wanted to get as much support as possible on Council for the pilot.”
While the cease and desist order has been lifted, Enforcement staff will continue to ticket Uber X drivers – having handed out some 50 charges in the space of a week.
Councillor George Carlson noted Uber has shown no interest in cooperating with the City. He condemned the idea of negotiating with a company which has consistently flaunted the City’s taxi regulations, and alleged that Uber is “using scare tactics, and bulldozing” in countless cities across the globe.
Long-time owner Peter Pellier said the industry is “very upset” with the Mayor on this item. He notes the newly minted “Capture option” remains in place, meaning Uber X is in violation of the bylaw.
“So, a company which is operating illegally now gets to sit at the table,” he complains. “The Mayor is clearly looking at what happened in Toronto…Basically, it’s all about licensing revenues.”
He dismissed Black’s letter as, more of the, “Uber propaganda which has mesmerized politicians all over the world.”
The subcommittee will consist of Councillors Ron Starr and Karen Ras, citizen member Al Cormier, and Uber public policy manager Chris Schafer. The taxi industry was given until May 30 to appoint a member, but the committee will proceed regardless.
Deeming the Mississauga taxi licensing system “unique”, Parrish termed these latest developments, “Not (just) the unfortunate end of an old style of doing business, for modern technology. This is the stripping of our cabbies of their retirement funds, and bowing to bullies who defiantly break the laws of our City and Province.”
In Quebec, the Province has taken a much harder line on Uber X, under the proposed Bill 100. But with Uber having just offered a list of concessions, in order not to see Uber X banned from La Belle Province, some observers fear the government will follow the same pattern of caving in to this $62-billion virtual dispatch provider.
Under Bill 100, Transport Minister Jacques Daoust seeks to force Uber X drivers to abide by the same regulations as cabbies, regarding permits and taxes.
He has tersely maintained that Uber is a private company, and “it’s their decision” whether to stay or leave.
On May 23, at hearings on Bill 100 before the Quebec National Assembly, Uber Quebec GM Jean-Nicholas Guillemette made the plea that, “(The Minister) wants us to operate like taxis, which we are not. And it will definitely kill our model.”
And, much like in Mississauga, Uber suggested a pilot project to keep Uber X service on the road, under the following conditions: that ride booking companies buy a $100,000 operating permit each year; pay a set tax of 35 cents per trip; pay a tax of seven cents per ride to Quebec’s automobile insurance program; begin paying GST and PST after the first dollar of every ride; and provide the government with an income summary for every driver ever three months.
Guillemette said the taxes would amount to more than $3 million per year in revenues for the Province.
Daoust responded skeptically that in terms of how much taxi permits represent, “it’s very marginal”, and that allowing Uber to operate without buying into the permit system, would erode the value of existing permits.
Guy Chevrette, the head of a taxi lobby, alleged that Uber has been acting “like a hardened criminal” in Quebec, and is now only shedding “crocodile tears”. He suggests Uber is attempting to stall the progress of Bill 100, which Daoust hopes to pass in June.
Meanwhile, the day before the National Assembly hearings, Revenu Quebec won a case against Uber, with a Quebec Superior Court Judge ruling that the agency can officially open and inspect the documents it seized from Montreal area Uber offices in May of 2015, under two search warrants. Judge Guy Cournoyer declared that Uber was not respecting the law at both the federal and provincial levels.
Long-time Toronto owner/operator Gerry Manley asserts that, “Every municipality that capitulates to Uber, regardless of what the wording is, will do so for only one reason, and one reason only, which is to collect more licensing and tax revenues.”
Pellier points to a fundamental difference in the Uber controversy in Quebec, where it’s the Transport Minister who has held the hammer over Uber – so far.
“It’s the provincial government, which begs the question where is the Wynne government (on this issue)?” he asks. “The silence is deafening.”