City of Kingston ‘levels the playing field’ on Uber, Lyft and TNCs
by Mike Beggs
Under a new bylaw, Kingston has just laid the hammer down on Uber and Lyft.
It becomes the first municipality in Ontario – and indeed Canada -- to spurn Uber’s heavy lobbying efforts, and impose a cap on the number of Transportation Network Company vehicles (this move closely coinciding with the one-year cap imposed in New York City).
This, plus several measures which will see Ubers treated like traditional taxis. And these additional costs to its drivers, reportedly, have the popular ridesharing service thinking twice about staying in the Queen’s City.
The 37-page bylaw was developed over the past year by the Kingston Area Taxi Commission (KATC), an independent body which is mandated by the Province and can create bylaws.
Effective September 15:
TNC’s must pay a $40,000 startup fee, and an annual $35,000 administration fee
all TNC drivers must pay registration fees between $600 and $900, and pay for police background checks
TNC drivers must display a decal, and photo ID (with name and address) in their vehicle
all cars must be seven years old or less, and be checked regularly.
Most significantly, the number of TNC’s will be capped at 150, with no more than 50 drivers allowed to be on call at any one time.
Kingston’s 400-or-so licensed taxis have taken it on the chin since Uber X’s arrival in November of 2015; and the city’s three major cab companies were furious that Uber drivers were playing the streets without rules, or licensing fees.
Amey’s Taxi owner Mark Greenwood called the pending regulations, “a step in the right direction.”
“No one’s completely happy, but the bylaw kind of levels the playing field,” he told Global News.
“And, I think the Commission is trying to protect the public.”
According to Councillor Liz Schell, one of the elected officials who sits on the KATC, the “unfair disruption” of the regulated cab industry, and public safety were top of mind in drafting these tougher measures -- given the disturbing number of sexual assaults committed by Uber drivers around the world, the absence of a 24x7 dispatch office for victims to report such incidents, and the ongoing questions surrounding the driver screening process utilized by TNC’s.
“We worry about what to do when something goes wrong,” she told CBC. “When things are bad, who do you call? So, we really felt we had to level the playing field, especially in terms of safety.”
Uber claims its sophisticated app technology offers several built-in safety features for passengers (allowing them to see, and track the progress of their driver). And in KATC sessions, Uber Canada’s public policy manager Chris Schafer argued that ridesharing options have proven to reduce the incidence of impaired driving – thereby, offering additional safety for students at Queen’s University.But to CBC, Greenwood emphasized, “Taxi services have been around Kingston for over 100 years. And even one sexual assault is too many.”
Schell said the bylaw was not crafted with the intention of driving Uber out of town, and that the extra fees will cover the cost of regulating the increased number of “taxis” on Kingston streets.
According to the Queen’s Journal, Schafer cited “a lack of public consultations, and studies in drafting the new bylaw.” He argued that cities across Canada have already enacted relatively uniform regulations for TNC’s and that the new bylaw is “not consistent with the consensus which has been developed.”
He further asserted that the Kingston Area Taxi Commission gets its jurisdiction from provincial legislation which is outdated by several decades, and that Kingston city council would have been a better venue to deal with these issues. He cited the results of a Nanos poll, showing that 97 percent of Kingston residents had heard of Uber, and 63 percent of them support, or somewhat support Uber being allowed to remain in town under the new bylaw.
Veteran Toronto owner/operator Gerry Manley commends Kingston for taking the lead in implementing a cap – his own city now flooded with a staggering 75,000 TNC’s (prompting the filing of a $1.7-billion-plus class action suit against the City, by taxi operators).
“Since municipalities are always looking towards each other for guidance on issues, perhaps it’s time for the City of Toronto to look at Kingston for guidance,” he offers.
“I think it makes a lot of sense. You have to respect the fact that every taxi industry has a social contract with their city. We give a lot, and their part is to limit the number of vehicles, so we have an opportunity to make a living.”
He notes the licensing fees now slapped on TNC’s bring Kingston in line with changes to the Federal Excise Tax Act, which states that both taxis and TNC’s operate as a taxi business.
“They’re requiring them to pay a licensing fee, the same as taxis and limos. So they’re following all the rules. Toronto is not,” he adds.
”It is a step in the right direction. But will other cities (follow Kingston’s lead?). I doubt it. Some will.”
Mississauga plate owner Peter Pellier, likewise, gives Kingston kudos.
“It remains to be seen whether Uber and Lyft will continue to serve the people of Kingston, given two key elements in their respective business plans -- an unlimited supply of affiliated operators, and cheap license fees -- have been scuttled,” he says.
But with Kingston’s population sitting at 165,000, he suggests, “there’s no comparison to Toronto (with more than 2.8 million people).”
“It would appear highly unlikely Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards will incorporate (such measures) in their 2019 Review and Report to members of Council,” he comments. “For that to happen, (MLS executive director) Tracey Cook would have to do a complete about-face, contradicting the wishes of her political masters in the process.
“Then again, in the event Jennifer Keesmaat is elected Mayor, it’s a brand new ball game at city hall.”
Meanwhile in mid-August, the province of Quebec announced that taxi drivers will be compensated for their losses to Uber.
According to a Canadian Press report, La Belle Province will distribute $250 million in public funds to taxi operators, who have seen the value of their plates fall from hundreds of thousands of dollars, to a few tens of thousands. Depending on the region they work in, cabbies will receive compensation ranging from $1,000 to $46,700 (for those who worked in Montreal, Quebec City, or Gatineau from 2016 to 2018).
With Toronto taxi operators now pursuing a $1.7-billion-plus class action suit against their City, Mark Sexsmith (marketing manager for Mississauga’s All-Star Taxi) suggests the Quebec award set a timely precedent, which they could use as “ammunition”.
“It seems like there’s a bit of a groundswell growing. It’s not in the public’s mind. But governments are coming to the realization that they have probably poorly managed the entire (ridesharing) file,” he offers.