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City left with limited options on Uber issue

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The City of Oshawa has been given two options to choose from in order to deal with illegal Uber drivers on the city’s streets, and both have been riddled with their own complications.

On the one hand, calls have come from the taxi industry to create a regulation system for Uber drivers, similar to what the city recently completed for designated drivers services. On the other, councillors have called for further enforcement of the city’s existing taxi-bylaw and to start slapping Uber drivers with the stated $5,000 fine.

However, The Oshawa Express has learned that both options come with potential risks for the city and the taxpayer dollars they manage.

Oshawa specific regulations

If Oshawa were to go down the road of creating its own set of regulations to govern Uber, similar to what Toronto and Ottawa have recently completed, it will be in for a long haul project. If the DD bylaw is any indicator, Oshawa will be in for years of consultants, draft reports and endless deliberations.

According to Jerry Conlin, the city’s director of municipal law enforcement and licensing services, the city has been in touch with the other municipalities that have moved forward with their own regulations. However, he says the majority of cities are taking a step back.

“There’s been a limited number of municipalities (that) have moved forward. They’re kind of waiting to see what happens,” he says.

The waiting game could pay off if the province creates an Ontario-wide set of regulations, something that would be preferable for Conlin.

“There’s been discussion that the province has been looking at things, though we’re not aware of them specifically; but a province-wide approach to Uber would make it advantageous to municipalities so they would have a consistent approach to regulating this transportation medium,” he says.

When contacted for confirmation as to whether the province was in fact working toward any such regulations, The Express received this response from Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Bob Nichols.

“Ride-sourcing services such as Uber that use technology to connect riders to drivers are relatively new. We appreciate that this has had a significant impact on how people choose to get around and on how services are provided, and that municipalities are working hard to consider the best way to regulate ride-sourcing services,” he writes in an emailed response.

“The Ontario government does not regulate taxi or ride-sourcing services. Municipalities have the authority to establish licensing schemes for taxi services and ride-sourcing and some have already done so.”

Enforce the existing bylaws

With the uncertainty surrounding the province’s go-forward strategy and the uncertain costs of creating Oshawa-specific regulations, several councillors have called for further enforcement of the existing taxi-cab bylaw.

However, at the previous meeting of the corporate services committee, councillors learned the city’s bylaw enforcement division does not have the proper resources to address the issue.

Despite that, a request for more bylaw officers will not be part of the department’s budget request in the upcoming year because, according to Conlin, there isn’t enough information to justify that spending the money to hire more officers will actually solve the problem.

“We do not have anything in the budget for additional officers. When we come forward, we want to have a business case that properly supports that request and right now, we don’t know enough,” Conlin says.

The lack of enforcement has drawn the chagrin of Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, who says the city can’t just sit back and wait to see what happens.

“We as a community enforce the bylaws we already have. If we don’t enforce the bylaws we have, then what’s the point of having bylaws at all?” she says.

“Everyone is waiting for someone else to do something and yet we wanted to be the leader on DD services and we wanted to be the leader on residential rental housing and for this we don’t want to touch it.”

McQuaid-England says the city needs to start reconsidering the way its bylaws are enforced.

“I think we really need to look at the model in which we are handling our bylaws and I think we need to move to a more proactive approach.”

A request for comment to Uber for this story was not returned as of The Oshawa Express’ press deadline.