The city is looking to the public for its thoughts on the controversial status of taxi and ride-sharing companies in Oshawa.
Public meetings are planned for later this year as a way to gauge feedback on the future of companies such as Uber and Lyft, as well as the city’s role in the oversight of “vehicle-for-hire” standards.
As previously reported by The Oshawa Express, back in November, the city’s corporate services committee was presented with two options moving forward. At the committee’s March 2 meeting, a third option was put on the table.
According to a staff report, the first option reduces the “regulatory burden” on companies by only establishing standards that directly address the city’s standards of health and safety, consumer protection, and nuisance control.
It also proposes establishing a new by-law would create “harmonized standards” for the entire industry.
The second option would essentially maintain many of the standards in the city’s current by-law, which would mean ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft would remain illegal in Oshawa.
According to staff, the third option would have some similar elements to the first, but eliminate the licensing of taxi companies and the requirement for companies to provide training for drivers who drive accessible taxis.
This third option would also see the city washing its hands of any role in regulating fares, and get rid of plate limits for all taxicabs.
While the committee was only debating the inclusion of the third option, there was plenty of fulsome conversation on the topic at large.
The presence of ride-sharing companies has become increasingly prevalent in the city over the past few years.
Michael McMurray of CityWide Taxi said there are many “misconceptions” being floated around the community and council chambers.
“If you don’t have the proper information you can’t make the right decision,” McMurray told the committee.
McMurray said the business model of ride-sharing companies is unsustainable and said cities across the world are moving to ban them.
“They’re realizing what these services are, and they’re trying to get rid of them,” he said.
He added the taxi industry is an “essential service” to the people of Oshawa, and by supporting ride-sharing companies, council is not supporting residents.
“We need you to stand up for the people in Oshawa. There is a disconnection between the people and this governing body,” McMurray stated. “You need to reach out and get them back in your trust.”
Trevor Brown of Blueline Taxi said the third option presented to council would undo any work the city has done in achieving proper regulation.
He said this option would leave “no regulation on fees and doesn’t leave anybody safe.”
Brown said years ago, the taxi industry was in the same situation, and “the city stepped in, rightfully, and righted the ship.”
Ward 4 city councillor Derek Giberson asked Brown to expand on how bad the taxi industry was in the past with little regulation.
“It was poor… The industry was what you see on television… there’s a stereotype for a reason,” Brown said, adding if council supports less regulation “it’ll be bubblegum and duct tape all over again.”
With that said, Brown adds the impact of ride-sharing on the taxi industry is clear.
“We’ve been running cars longer than we normally would because we can’t afford new ones,” he said.
Brown noted there is also a tremendous lack of suitable and qualified drivers because its “easier for people to go out and do it in their own car.”
Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson told Brown he didn’t feel it was council’s responsibility to give companies “a monopoly over the taxi industry.”
“Are we in the business of ensuring your business is profitable?” Nicholson asked.
Brown replied by stating he didn’t feel this was the city’s job, but it did have a responsibility to ensure health and safety standards.
To Nicholson, once the city applied “stringent standards” across the industry, that’s as far as the municipality’s job goes.
“This is nothing to do with any company. As far as I’m concerned, name me the company, and the operation of that company is irrelevant to me,” he said.
He said certain companies “control the industry” for their individual profit, and when any change is proposed, “suddenly we hear about how they are there for the riders.”
“A well-rounded industry competes well when they provide a good product to their customers,” Nicholson said. “It should never be the city’s role to protect private or corporate interest.”
Giberson said when it comes to Uber and Lyft, “it’s not all it’s cut out to be.”
Speaking specifically on Uber, Giberson said the company has never turned a profit, a fact he believes should be “a very big red flag.”
He said many ride-sharing drivers do not earn a living wage, and employee attrition for companies is “tremendous.”
“The reason is they’re not making any money,” he said.
Giberson believes the initial benefit of ride-sharing was its use of technology, and that advantage “has been wiped out.”
While he admits the advantages of ride-sharing programs are paying less and drivers arriving quicker, he doesn’t believe this will last.
To him, ride-sharing companies are over-saturating the market and undercharging for a service.
“One day, they’re going to have to correct that, it’s simple economics,” he said.
Ward 5 city councillor John Gray said over-regulation is something he isn’t interested in.
“When I got elected to council, we regulated the hours of gas stations… thou shalt not get gas after 7 p.m. Same with pharmacies,” he said. “We scrapped that kind of nonsense.”
Gray said he wanted to hear the public’s opinions “then make some decisions.”
There were many different opinions on the matter, but Ward 2 city and regional councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri wanted to see standards on par with other municipalities in Durham.
“I don’t want to create an unfair advantage or unfair disadvantage for our operators,” he said.
Marimpietri said he sympathizes with ride-sharing companies when they are getting “hammered” in Oshawa but don’t get the same treatment in other municipalities.
Ward 4 city and regional councillor Rick Kerr said the transportation industry is going through an evolution.
He said the question for the city is determining a “business model that works,” and has “complete faith” is going to the public and using their input to find the answer.
However, Kerr said the final decision has to be “something that allows for evolution and doesn’t stifle it.”
The details of the proposed public meetings have to be finalized.