Toronto police crackdown on UberX drivers

From the Globe and Mail:

Toronto police have launched a crackdown on UberX drivers, the latest in a series of confrontations between the city and the ride-sharing app company.

At least 11 people were charged earlier this month with a variety of Highway Traffic Act violations, including operating a commercial motor vehicle without proper insurance and picking up passengers for compensation without a taxi licence.

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Toronto Police confirmed that those charged were alleged to be working as UberX drivers.

Since its launch in 2009, Uber – which pairs passengers with paid drivers through its mobile app – has skirted municipal taxi regulations by describing itself as a technology company and not a taxi service. Further blurring the lines is its UberX service, which allows ordinary drivers as opposed to licensed taxi drivers pick up passengers.

According to court records, all 11 people were charged in a single weekend, between March 7 and 9, by a single officer from Toronto Police’s 12 Division in the city’s northwest. Together, the drivers face at least 22 charges. The penalty for picking up passengers without an appropriate licence is a fine ranging from $200 to $20,000.

At provincial court Tuesday, all 11 drivers were represented by a single lawyer, Gerald Chan of the high-profile Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan firm. Mr. Chan declined to comment when asked after the hearing whether he had been hired by Uber to represent the drivers.

In November of last year, the city launched legal action against the company, seeking to shut down Uber’s operations in Toronto. In response, Uber has been lobbying city councillors and Mayor John Tory to change the traditional taxi licensing regulations to account for ride sharing.

The city’s director of licensing, Tracey Cook, said the police crackdown was not conducted at her direction.

“I can’t direct the police,” Ms. Cook said in a brief interview.

Larry Levy, WWII vet & Standard Plate owner

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Larry Levy and his wife Betty attended the L&S Committee meeting on March 24th to ask Councillors to grandfather Toronto's Standard Taxi plate. You can view Larry's interview here. 

Larry fought with Canada in Holland in World War II and returned to start his own taxi business with multiple cars which he ran for half of a century. When he started his business, Toronto told plate owners that owning a plate was a business investment and that owners would be able to retire with the plates as their pension. In February 2014, Toronto reneged on this long-standing agreement, leaving lifetime taxi industry members like Larry Levy out in the cold.

"I love this country and the people in it. I'm just asking Canada to do the same thing for me I did for Canada: fight for me," Levy says.

 

 

Councillor DiGiorgio sponsors motion to grandfather the Standard Plate at L&S Committee

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Larry Levy, 90-year-old World War 2 vet attended the March 24 Licensing and Standards meeting with his wife Betty. They were among the first speakers and did an excellent job of illustrating the point that devaluing the Standard Plate has unfairly harmed many life-long taxi industry members. Levy once ran 7 plates, and currently owns two.

At the March 24th meeting of the Licensing and Standards Committee, Councillor Frank DiGiorgio proposed the following motion, which passed unanimously:

"L+S Committee directs the Executive Director of Municipal Licensing and Standards to bring forward to the Licensing and Standards Committee the necessary bylaw amendments to reinstate the Standard Taxicab regulations that were in effect prior to February 19, 2014, and to provide a report to the Committee at its meeting on April 21, 2015.”

The full agenda and minutes of the meeting are available here.

The report requested of staff is scheduled to come back to L&S Committee on April 21st. Interested parties will have a chance to make deputations to Committee again on April 21st at 10am. To have your name included on the list of deputants, you can call 416-397-4592 or email lsc@toronto.ca

The report would then go on to Toronto City Council May 5,6,7.

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Asafo Addai who represents Ambassador Drivers on the TTA Executive Committee told L&S Committee members that he believes the Standard Plate should be grandfathered, "as a matter of fairness." Addai's institutional memory of how the Ambassador Plate was created was very helpful to the Committee, and he was able to answer all of their questions.

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TTA Executive Committee member Sam Moini and his father Hussein spoke to L&S Committee member to ensure Councillors have the fleet perspective before they make any decisions. "The Fleets are the backbone of the industry," Sam pointed out. "The reason Toronto residents can access cabs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is because the Fleet garages make sure the cabs are running. Moving to an unknown business model with the Toronto Taxi License will kill the fleets on which Toronto depends."

 

Uber And Airbnb: Make These Silicon Valley Darlings Accountable

Diane Francis | March 13, 2015 | Last Updated: Mar 13 7:04 PM ET

Uber and Airbnb are the darlings of Silicon Valley whose founders describe themselves as technology companies and pioneers of the “sharing economy.” But I don’t buy it.

The shared economy — multiple use of assets — is an old model and cabs, Zip Car and hotels have been around for some time.
Airbnb and Uber are simply intermediaries with technology and a business model that undercuts competitors and harms customers because it is based on circumventing rules, regulations and laws that apply to everyone else or to Zip Car, hotels and other intermediaries or brokers.

Airbnb is an online listings site that books more nights than does Hyatt Hotels worldwide at relatively low prices, but here’s how.
The company requires clients to sign a Terms of Service agreement that indemnifies the company from responsibility for injuries, damages, taxes, regulations or anything.

Because Airbnb believes it is indemnified, the company does not vet renters or units. This means that strangers who have not been checked or referenced can stay in units without permission of the landlord or neighboring condo owners or renters. These people may be convicted burglars, pedophiles or terrorists and, through Airbnb, they are able to gain access to residents, corridors, stairwells, gyms, pools, locker rooms, lounges and parking garages.

This also means that renters could be exposed to risks, too, because they may be staying in units obtained through Airbnb that violent persons own or have access to.

Airbnb listings also ignore the reality that in New York City and other urban areas, short-term rentals are, legally speaking, “hotels” and must pay hotel and income taxes. In addition, “hotel” units must meet hotel-standard fire, security, safety, zoning and other protective criteria, and Airbnb units do not.

Not surprisingly, horror stories are starting to surface about prostitutes, criminals or worse renting through Airbnb in many places. In January, New York City Council held hearings into an outright ban, New York State’s Attorney declared Airbnb short-term rentals as “illegal hotels” and the Real Estate Board of New York said such rentals raise “serious concerns for the safety of residents”.
Then there is Uber.

It’s an online cab dispatch service that matches passengers with drivers — nothing more than a digital hitch-hiking service. Uber also requires clients to sign away their rights: “You expressly waive and release the company from any and all liability, claims or damages arising from or in any way related to the third party transportation provider.”

The result is that Uber can offer cheap fares (through its Uber X option) because it uses drivers without training, livery licences, inspected vehicles or sufficient insurance. (Uber also has a luxury service, called Uber Black or SUV, that uses properly licensed, inspected and insured cars and drivers who demand very high fares.)

Not surprisingly like Airbnb, Uber X horror stories have surfaced and the company is under attack and banned in some jurisdictions. So far, Uber X drivers have been charged with dangerous driving, physical assault, sexual assault and rape.

While such incidents have been few and far between, Uber X’s business model exemplifies the same disregard for laws, rules, regulations and public safety as does Airbnb’s.

Most agree, as I do, that people have a right to rent out their residence for extra cash, but that they do not have the right to bypass their building bylaws, neighbors’ safety, regulatory safeguards or to evade taxes.

Similarly, people have a right to hire someone to drive them around, and if they don’t check their insurance, safety or criminal records, they have only themselves to blame. But allowing companies like these to make millions in fees as intermediaries without adhering to laws, rules, regulations or adherence to public safety is not something that any government on any level should allow.

Frankly, Uber X (not its platform to match passengers with legitimate livery services) should be banned and so should Airbnb unless it lists only legally constituted units that meet hotel criteria and pay taxes.

Most importantly, no company should be allowed to ask clients to indemnify them and no courts should recognize this indemnification either.

Nobody else has this privilege, not individuals or businesses like Marriott or Hyatt Hotels, Checker Cabs, Air Canada, American Airlines, Via Rail, Amtrak, Greyhound Bus, financial advisors, lawyers, accountants and other intermediaries.

Despite many critics and negative headlines, the two companies have not mended their ways, but have hired fancy public relations experts to protect their brands. But the only fix is for governments and tax authorities to crack down on them and make them accountable for their actions.

Financial Post
dfrancis@nationalpost.com