By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Plain and simple, Uber drivers are breaking city bylaws – but the City of Oshawa does not have the resources to make them pay.
At the most recent meeting of the corporate services committee, councillors heard yet another cry for help from the taxi industry, which is feeling the effects of the numerous Uber drivers now operating illegally in the city.
John Karkoulas, owner of City-Wide Taxi, appeared before the committee to prove that “bandit” Uber drivers are undercutting taxi cabs with cheap fairs, some of which do not include the applicable taxes, he says. He provided a package of 30 receipts from Uber fares as proof of his claims.
It is not the first time the taxi industry has appeared before councillors and requested them to take action. However, until now, councillors have been at a loss for what to do next.
“We’re faced with a conundrum here,” says Councillor Rick Kerr, noting that all options moving forward will come with their respective costs, whether that is pursuing consultants to develop a plan for city regulations, or hiring more staffers to bump up enforcement.
Currently, the city does not have the proper staffing numbers in place to deal with the amount of Uber drivers on the road.
“It comes down to resources for us,” says Jerry Conlin, the city’s director of municipal law enforcement and licensing services.
“The effort and the number of people we would require in order to do this enforcement would be more than we have in our complement right now.”
Uber drivers in Oshawa are currently in violation of the city’s taxi cab bylaw, the penalty for which is a $5,000 fine. However, because they’re using unmarked cars, bylaw officers are unable to enforce it unless they can halt the driver either during pick-up or drop off. Unlike police, municipal bylaw officers do not have the power to pull over a vehicle.
The other option also seemed to bring with it its own issues, as taking the time to create any kind of report on options for moving forward will take up the time of staffers already stretched thin.
“We have quite a backlog of policy work that we haven’t got to,” says Bev Hendry, the commissioner of corporate services.
“With all of the stakeholders and all our issues, someone is not going to get work done.”
Hendry says the regulation option could also be a little premature as the province may be starting to address the issue.
“I think that the province is starting to look at these new business models…they’re starting to talk about it and I want to be careful that we don’t enter too far into an implementation or an analysis,” she says.
The same was said by Conlin, who admitted any regulatory system for Uber created by Oshawa would be trumped by anything the province chooses to come out with.
For Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, enforcement is first and foremost and councillors should be taking immediate action.
“If we do anything other than enforce our current taxi cab bylaw, then this committee and our bylaws are a joke,” she says.
“By allowing Uber to infiltrate this community with no sense of actually enforcing our bylaws that are in place, this committee and our council will look silly.”
The sentiment was shared by Councillor Doug Sanders.
“We need to get out there and we need to show these Uber drivers that we’re serious,” he said.
A motion eventually carried through the committee that will see staff come back to the next meeting with a list of the reports that are currently in the works and committee will be tasked with reprioritizing to see where the Uber project would fit in. Regardless, it would seem some work will be punted to a later date, as according to Conlin, the Uber work won’t be completed without “taking other bylaws off the table.”
The motion will also see the possibility of additional MLELS staffers being hired brought to the 2017 budget discussions. It was something that had Councillor Nancy Diamond a little skeptical, noting more information was needed before spending any money.
“If we don’t know what we’re asking for at the budget, how are we going to ask and have a good chance at success?” she asked.