Here’s hoping for better news in the New Year!
There are a number of things going on with or affecting Toronto’s taxi industry and its participants, either directly or indirectly. Some are fairly easy to get a handle on, others not so much. What is certain is there will continue to be a long list of stories to pursue in the new year.
Chief among these is a recent, not appealable, European Court of Justice decision to the effect that Uber must be regulated the same as taxi companies. The decision applies in all European Union countries. It rejected Uber’s argument that it is simply a computer services company.
The case against Uber was brought by a union representing taxi drivers in Barcelona, Spain.
At least in part, this means Uber drivers in Europe must be treated by the company as employees, not as arms-length independent contractors. (A case in England on Uber driver status is now before the courts.) Apparently while Uber says it now operates as a licensed taxi service in England and the decision will have little impact there, it could well affect its cost structure through higher insurance, driver benefits and for passenger safety, stronger background checks and requirements for professional driver licenses.
As well, local authorities across the European Union may decide to regulate Uber as a taxi company, all making rides more expensive for passengers and narrowing the price differential between Uber and traditional taxi services.
I’m going to take a bit of a leap here and suggest the ruling will also apply to other app-based competitors of Uber.
In countries and various municipal jurisdictions world-wide, Uber has either been forced to cease operations (ed. Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria) or severely modify its operations (Italy, and some Texas jurisdictions like Austin, and some Canadian cities like Vancouver, thought I hear Uber will be returning there), and it has threatened to pull out of Quebec due to more stringent regulations (35 hours of training and a police record check for drivers).
So what does this mean for Canadian taxi drivers and the companies they work with? Frankly, this is eminently unclear at the moment. Much depends on how our politicians, bureaucrats and courts react to the ECJ decision. It may, or many not, affect their thinking. Toronto’s regulators and its taxi industry overall are hamstrung in some ways by a court decision to the effect that Uber and its competitors are a technology, not a taxi company. Yes, Uber now has to be licensed in Toronto, but it operates under vastly looser and less expensive regulations than those imposed on traditional taxis.
As well, there is strong political support for Uber on City Council, at least in part due to the vast amounts of money it is now contributing to city coffers though a per-ride fee paid to the City. (Hmm, just a thought, but who is auditing these payments? I somehow doubt any private company is going to give the City unfettered access to its financial records.)
The damage that has been inflicted on regular taxi drivers by Uber, and further damage that will come by the advent of Lyft and likely other competitors in the future, simply does not register with politicians or bureaucrats. Yes, some cab companies maintain they have never handled so many calls (Beck) but the vast majority of drivers are reporting to us that their earnings are down dramatically.
We do have a municipal election coming in 2018, so it may not be too early to start talking among yourselves to see what can be done to improve the political landscape for the taxi industry. Perhaps you could start by figuring out who on Council are your friends and who are not. I kind of expect to be talking about this more.
To conclude, I extend to all my most sincere wishes for a safe and prosperous 2018. Things will not be easy for taxis. But we can always hope for a minimal degree of sanity to strike City Hall. I’m sure our readers can well imagine how depressing and frustrating it is for me to continue to publish and comment on an endless stream of doom and gloom, bad news stories. I fervently hope better news will emerge in the New Year.