City ponders reinstating driver training after public outcry over sentencing of Uber driver charged in death of passenger
by Mike Beggs
“Life’s cheap”, screamed the December 5 cover of the Toronto Sun, the day after an Uber driver was sentenced to just a $1,000 fine, and other minor conditions in the March 21 death of his passenger, Nicholas Cameron.
Driver Abdihared Bishar-Mussa was originally facing four charges, including Dangerous Driving Causing Death, and Criminal Negligence Causing Death. But in October, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of Careless Driving.
And, on December 4 in the Ontario Court of Justice, he was assessed the $1,000 fine, two years probation, a one-year driving suspension and 30 hours of community service, and he must undergo driver training.
The Somalian native had recently moved from Ottawa to Toronto, and was in just his second day behind the wheel for Uber. At 3:30 a.m., Cameron (28) and his girlfriend, Monika Traikor, had ordered a ride from downtown to Pearson Airport, to go on a Mexican vacation.
But their rookie driver was unsure which way to go on the Gardiner Expressway, and was checking directions on his cellphone when it fell to the floor. He pulled over to the shoulder to pick it up, and upon merging back on the highway (at just 5 km. per hour) was hit from behind by a BMW travelling at high speeds.
Crown Attorney Michael Coriston told the court the impact of the collision sent the 2012 Hyundai Sonata careening across four lanes of traffic, and broke Cameron’s neck. He never regained consciousness, and died the following day in hospital.
“Why did the City allow this person to service the public?” asks iTaxiworkers Association president Sajid Mughal.
Cameron’s brother Patrick deemed Ontario Court Justice Paul Robertson’s decision “totally inadequate”. But he acknowledged the Justice was bound by outdated laws (which have recently been toughened up, but weren’t applicable to this case).
Several months after the fatal crash, his mother Cheryl Hawkes told Global News, “We are all devastated, and it takes a lot out of us.”
Uber management told CBC, “Our hearts are with all those grieving”, and that the driver had been removed from their platform.
“We are constantly investing in policies, practices, and technology that support safety on Uber. We look forward to engaging with the City, as they undertake their review,” a statement read.
The City shelved its 17-day driver training course, upon licensing Uber and other PTC’s under the 2016 Vehicle-For Hire bylaw. But Cameron’s family wants all taxi and PTC drivers to pass through mandatory training, and has found strong public support for an online petition to that effect.
And in mid-December, Toronto Council directed Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) staff to examine the idea of mandatory driver training, as part of its’ upcoming Review of the new Vehicle-For-Hire bylaw, expected this spring.
“Safety is, of course, the number one consideration,” stated Mayor John Tory, who was one of the driving forces behind the 2016 decision to mothball driver training.
Mughal suggests Cameron’s tragic death is just one more example of the fallout from Council’s loosening up of the bylaw, which also allows PTC’s to do third- party driver background checks and to operate without cameras. He points to PTC drivers routinely driving the wrong direction on one-way streets and making dangerous U-turns, and to the prevalence of sexual assaults by Uber drivers (in Toronto, and many major cities).
“Everywhere you go (in the world) people raise the bar. But instead of raising the standard, Toronto lowered the standard,” he states.
Several members of the city’s struggling taxi industry suggest the financial and time commitment of mandatory training might deplete the number of PTC drivers coming in.
“I would think that would hurt Uber, because most of them are part-time people,” observes Peter McSherry, who drove cab in Toronto for more than 40 years.
“I think, in general, they haven’t gone as deep into the business as regular drivers, so the requirements have been less. I think their drivers would be put off by the changes (and cost involved).”
Veteran owner/operator Gerry Manley suggests the Council directive “strengthens” the case for the plate owners’ proposed $1.7-billion class action suit against the City of Toronto.”
“This reversal of thought proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the City of Toronto’s allowing Uber to operate in Toronto without any regulations, including driver training, was a huge mistake,” he alleges.
He says taxi industry leaders warned the Mayor, and Council repeatedly about eliminating driver training, DOT mechanical inspections and related measures, but were, “completely ignored”.
But in the end, he believes this directive amounts to “politics”, and “smoke and mirrors” on the part of Council.
“The court of public opinion is the only thing Toronto City Hall, and Queen’s Park listen to,” he adds.
Furthermore, he asserts that all the driver training in the world will not provide an acceptable level of public safety, when the City of Toronto has 14,125 taxi drivers and 71,680 PTC drivers regulated by only 10 to 12 enforcement officers.
“I would be interested to see how better driver training will lead to more, or better public health and safety (given those numbers),” he adds.