By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Oshawa city hall has once again been called to take action against ride-sharing companies illegally operating on city streets.
The operations of companies such as Uber and Lyft were brought to the city’s attention while it worked through the final stages of confirming its bylaw to regulate the city’s designated driver companies.
With that completed and approved at council’s most recent meeting, several members of the taxi industry showed up at the corporate services committee to make sure the city’s priorities were focused on these ride-sharing companies currently operating outside the city’s bylaws.
“I’m confused why (there is) the acceptance of cities to be treated in this manner, in their cities. You’re being told what to do,” said Michael McMurray of Uber’s operations.
“Uber has effectively put itself above the law in every single country it operates in,” said Terry Muir, another delegate at the meeting.
The ride-sharing company, which uses an app to connect drivers with people looking for rides, received strong condemnation in the meeting, with one delegate going as far as requesting the city to implement a full ban on operations.
Starting in September, laws in Quebec have placed steep penalties against Uber drivers, including hefty fines, car impoundments and even license suspensions for those caught picking up riders using the app.
And while here in Ontario, the province has implemented changes to the Insurance Act to allow companies to offer policies for drivers operating under ride-sharing apps, Queen’s Park is leaving it up to individual municipalities to figure out local approaches to deal with the issue.
For Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, chair of the corporate services committee, there has not been enough political will to deal with the issue of ride-sharing in Oshawa.
“City staff are at the whim of council and committee decisions,” she says.
“As it stands, as of today, Uber is illegal under our taxi cab bylaw and the longer we wait to do something and the longer we allow our bylaw, which is currently in place, to not be enforced, we’re not doing our jobs as elected officials.”
Currently, city staff in the Municipal Law Enforcement and Licensing Service Department are working on a report for councillors regarding this very matter.
However, before any of that happens and any new regulations are created, McQuaid-England says the current bylaws need to be the focus of enforcement.
“We make taxi cab drivers jump through hoops in order to operate in this city and they need to be supported,” she says.
“We as political councillors have to ensure that our bylaws are enforced and we have the proper resources in place to manage that enforcement.”
Jerry Conlin, the director of that department, says he knows any changes to enforcement around these companies will require a heavy increase in staffing to deal with them.
“You’re into a 24/7 model of enforcement,” he says, noting that he would prefer to do a full analysis of an enforcement model before making any conclusions around potential increases.
“I do think there will be pressure though,” he added.
When reached for comment, Uber spokesperon Susie Heath noted that the ride-sharing company is “a unique business model that is distinct from taxi.”
Due to that, Heath points to the new regulations managing transportation network companies that have been created to regulate such ride-sharing companies. Such regulatory regimes have been put in place across the globe and within Canada, including Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Region and Waterloo Region.
“(These) regulations have coalesced around a common model that creates a new category of business license for companies like Uber and established smart rules for public safety,” Heath says, noting inclusions of standards for background checks, insurance and vehicle inspections.
“Uber is working with municipalities and provinces acrss the country – including Oshawa – that are all in various stages of introducing ridesharing regulations.”