By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
After an original decision caused confusion among staff, city council has reconsidered its go-forward strategy to deal with Uber’s illegal operations on city streets. However, what that strategy is remains unclear after a closed session meeting.
At the final meeting of the corporate services committee for 2016, councillors heard from a wide variety of taxi drivers, union reps and other stakeholders on just how the city should approach the conundrum of dealing with Uber. Council also heard from Toronto city councillor Jim Karygiannis, a vocal anti-Uber advocate who offered some advice to the city gained from his experience with Toronto’s dealings with the ride-sharing company this past summer.
Karygiannis suggested the city implement many of the same requirements they recently put in place for its designated driver services, like a police check, and that Uber drivers and vehicles should operate under the same “rigorous tests” put on the taxi industry. He also urged the city to ensure Uber is paying its fair share of taxes, something the local taxi industry has advised council Uber is not doing.
For Joel Smith, a union organizer with Unifor Local 222, the lack of regulation for Uber is “chilling” and something needs to be done to protect taxi drivers.
“They are having their business stolen and have no other method of recourse,” he says.
Others in attendance at the meeting, which needed to be moved from the downstairs committee room to the council chambers in order to accommodate the extra people, labelled Uber’s business practices as “despicable” and that the company employs “backdoor strategies” to get what they want.
Following the series of delegations, councillors withdrew their original motion which would have directed Municipal Law Enforcement and Licensing Services staff to report back to council with options or consultant costs. It also asked staff to consider the option of a cooperative study with Durham Region municipalities. However, due to confusion among staff members, the motion was withdrawn.
According to Councillor Nancy Diamond, a newer motion to include the delegations and information gained that morning would be beneficial for staff.
“We’re better to have an open statement that has MLELS staff listening to the delegations from this morning and pulling that together to come back to council,” she said, noting that there isn’t any solution that would be be in place immediately and that council has shown a willingness to move forward on this.
“This is simply to not restrict, but put it on a broad format,” she said.
The delegations were referred to a subsequent meeting of the corporate services committee, which were then dealt with behind closed doors as council looked into the legalities of any potential solutions. Following the closed meeting, staff were advised to continue working on the matter discussed during the closed session.
Councillors are unable to comment on the matters discussed in-camera, but Jerry Conlin, the city’s director of municipal law enforcement and licensing services, says things are basically at the information gathering stage on a very broad scale.
“Staff are looking at the entire transportation network, not just Uber,” he says.
“We’re not moving forward with any specific study or assessment, but we are starting to examine it and coordinate with our peers to find out what else is going on in Durham Region and other areas of the GTA.”