Paul Harris discusses Uber
A councillor in Canada’s largest metropolis believes road safety cannot be achieved without implementing the city’s own testing and training programs for ride-hailing drivers — even if that means putting a pause on those services indefinitely while formulating the protocols.
Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto Centre councillor for Ward 13, fell just short of the majority required to debate her motion that would ban the licensing of any new ride-hailing drivers until the city approves an accreditation program.
That was on Oct. 1. And now, Wong-Tam said she will continue fighting to bring this to the city’s attention.
“This is a major problem, especially as we have people demanding cities do more to stop the violence on our roads,” Wong-Tam said in a phone interview. “And none of it needs to start from scratch because we already have models for taxi drivers and cabs in place.”
The councillor’s proposal will next be heard at the upcoming infrastructure and environment committee later this month, despite the earlier vote.
However, some business executives and stakeholders have raised heated concerns with Wong-Tam’s motion — which isn’t the first of its kind from Toronto city council.
David Clement, North American affairs manager for the Consumer Choice Center, is one of those voices in opposition to the proposal.
Clement said banning new ride-hailing licences will significantly limit consumer access and inflate prices in the vehicle-for-hire sector. He believes a motion like this also has the potential to reverberate in other Canadian cities of all sizes.
“Ride-sharing with Uber and Lyft has been upended by the pandemic like so many other industries, while customers are still hesitant to take crowded public transit options,” said Clement in a phone interview.
“So, to see this happening is really quite ridiculous and it’s particularly irritating because they want to put a halt on something really important to people, as they take their sweet time on a fault of their own making.”
Clement pointed to the fact that in March 2020, councillors mandated new ride-hail drivers to complete an accreditation program by the city. However, Toronto never got around to approving a provider to implement those protocols.
“If the city council truly cared about this based on the frankly bogus new arguments about safety issues, it had 18 months to figure it out. It’s unacceptable their inaction will punish consumer access and drivers’ wages,” said Clement.
But Wong-Tam isn’t backing down, calling Clement’s comments “just more of the scare tactics and threats that business interests use to dissuade issues of importance to the city.”
She said understanding this is a significant safety concern for Toronto becomes much easier if one simply talks to the victims of crashes, assault or other violence due to poorly trained Uber and Lyft drivers.
“There’s millions of dollars to be made by having just licences issued,” Wong-Tam said. “So, every time someone logs one of those, Uber gets richer.
“They measure their success based on how many drivers are on the road and we measure our success based on how safer are our roads.”
In a statement to BNN Bloomberg, a Lyft spokesperson wrote: “Drivers go through rigorous safety screenings prior to being approved to drive on the Lyft platform, and we are supportive of Toronto’s efforts to improve public safety. However, it's important that we do so in a way that doesn't jeopardize earning opportunities for people at a time when many are still recovering from the economic devastation of COVID-19. We look forward to collaborating with the city in order to achieve our shared goals.”
Uber wrote a similar statement to BNN Bloomberg as Lyft, reiterating much of what the global company had stated in a letter to Toronto’s city clerk delivered to the council before voting on Wong-Tam’s motion on Oct. 1.
“Safety is at the heart of Uber. We fully support the driver training mandate set out by the City of Toronto, and we continue to urge the city to move forward with a swift and timely rollout,” an Uber spokesperson wrote.
Previously, Uber public policy spokesperson Jake Brockman said in the letter to city council that there needs to be more predictability for the sector around timelines for the city’s protocols and that pausing licensing would have severely negative consequences.
“This policy would hinder Toronto’s economic recovery and punish individuals for something that was no fault of their own,” Brockman said, adding they have already added substantial training modules of their own for drivers and include extensive background checks.
“Uber has encouraged a rollout that starts with new drivers and then moves to incorporate existing drivers as their licence comes up for renewal.”