July 2018

Why are European regulators more enlightened about taxi regulation?

A fair amount of information about Uber’s situation in Europe has come out in the past month and I certainly find it fascinating.

At least on the surface, apparently Uber is being forced to change the way it operates throughout Europe, and possibly worldwide. Politicians, regulators and the courts, it certainly seems, are successfully fighting back against the long-standing corporate culture of doing what it wants in any market, based on the premise that it is not governed by the rules its competition must obey.

But it is winning some battles, at least short term.

You may recall late last year the European Court of Justice ruled, among other things, that Uber can be regulated as taxis, and that Uber drivers are not independent contractors, as the company maintained, but in fact have many of the same rights as employees, including the right to unionize and get health care benefits. This decision could not be appealed. As a result, Uber is now at least providing drivers sick pay in European Union countries.

In London, England, it did win a battle of sorts by getting court permission to continue to operate under a 15 month probationary license (it had asked for either a full 5-year license or at least an 18 month trial period) despite vehement opposition from the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and the GMB trade union. The regulator, Transport for London led the effort to deny the licenses on the grounds that the company had shown it was not a “fit and proper” operator. TfL was concerned about passenger safety, how it dealt with criminal allegations against its drivers, its use (now stopped) of using software to evade police enforcement as well as having other serious concerns about how it operates.

The win for licensed taxis and the regulators is that Uber has been put on notice it must not continue to operate under its original business model.

Heck, they are even going to have to report crimes alleged to be committed by its drivers to police. What an incredibly novel concept!

The company is still appealing a labor tribunal ruling forcing it to give drivers some employee benefits, including overtime and paid vacations.

In the United States, a group of women who alleged they were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers have received permission to proceed with a class-action suit against the company. Previously, Uber handled these cases privately, settling out of court and imposing non-disclosure agreements on victims.

I’ve also read Uber has settled a lawsuit over allegedly stolen proprietary information.

Now look at what is going on in Canada. The Canada Revenue Agency, after dragging its feet for an unconscionably long time, has forced Uber and its drivers to collect and remit HST/GST. How many Uber drivers are actually registered with the CRA is a really good question.

At Pearson International Airport, Uber drivers can now pick up fares for a fee of $4.50 for a very, very long trial period. Meanwhile, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority continues to extort $15 a fare for taxis and limos using its pre-arranged system. How that is considered to be fair is utterly beyond me. We’ll see how the airport taxis and limos react to this assault on their businesses. (Without a shred of supporting evidence to date, I doubt they will roll over and play dead.)

In Toronto, at the June meeting of the Licensing and Standards Committee of City Council, the answer to one outstanding question I’ve had for years is why I never see Uber drivers appear before the Toronto Licensing Tribunal.

Municipal Licensing and Standards Executive Director Tracey Cook told the committee that our ever-vigilant enforcement people allow Uber to deal with infractions internally. Offenders working with Uber and other app-based taxi service providers are not held accountable to the regulators or the public. Meanwhile taxi and limo drivers are hauled before the TLT every week to answer for a long litany of bylaw and other infractions. Don’t get me started on the serial and very expensive ticketing for taxi drivers for trivial bylaw offenses.

The bylaw charges against all those Uber drivers from Operation Snowball of, what is it, almost four years ago now, are still sitting in bylaw court limbo, as far as I know.

I suppose this is what passes for fairness and equal treatment before the law in the Never-Never Land of Toronto politics.

Mississauga is also actively bending over backwards to accommodate the app-based companies.

Using Uber to provide public transit service in the town of Innisfil, north of Toronto, is, according to the reports I’ve read, working reasonably well and saving the town a pile of money.

But, again as far as I know, the Toronto Transit Commission is so far not going ahead with a pilot project using Uber vehicles to provide some TTC services.

I’m wondering when the province will start goosing Uber to provide equivalent service to all disabled passengers, including those in wheelchairs. My understanding is when Uber, etc. get calls from the disabled they farm them out to taxis providing this service. Is this meeting the spirit and intent of the AODA? Others will decide that question.

The point of all this is that it is becoming patently obvious that our European, including British, cousins appear to be more aware than their counterparts on this side of the Atlantic. At least some of they seem to be taking measures to protect their public while over here just the opposite is happening.

Wouldn’t it be a refreshing turn of events to see the rule of law actually be established and enforced?

A proposed work plan for the long-awaited review of the taxi reforms of a couple of years ago has been presented by MLS. Typically, virtually none of the concerns the taxi industry wants addressed are included. Maybe, just maybe, enough councillors can be persuaded to see the injustice of this, and open up the review enough to become relevant to what you want and need.


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