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Guelph councillors wrangle on whether taxi bylaws goes too far or not far enough

Final vote on new bylaws to be held by city council at the end of the month
April 4, 2018
By Graeme McNaughton

A proposed new bylaw that brings ridesharing services like Uber into the city's regulatory framework came before councillors Tuesday afternoon.

However, much of the debate boiled down to whether the taxi and ridesharing industries were being hit with too many regulations, or perhaps not enough.

The new bylaw, which will come back to council for a final vote at the end of the month, will see that ride sharing companies have to ensure their drivers meet the city's qualifications, such as passing a criminal-background check, proper insurance, annual safety checks and more.

While the company says it supports the proposed rules for its drivers, an executive with Uber Canada says many of the standards being put forward by Guelph are already being done by the company internally.

"Right now, even in the absence of a bylaw currently in Guelph - we're supportive of one - but in the absence of that, all the drivers here are run through the Waterloo Region bylaw process," said Chris Schafer, the company's manager of public policy.

"It's almost uniformly consistent with what's being proposed."

Schafer added that in jurisdictions where there are no bylaws governing ride sharing services, Uber requires criminal background checks, vehicle inspections and proper insurance for its drivers

While the proposed bylaw would put some rules on the books for ride sharing services, not all councillors felt everything that should be done was being implemented.

Coun. Phil Allt said that the provincial government should have taken a stronger lead when ride sharing services started hitting the streets of Ontario several years ago, rather than leaving it to individual municipalities.

"Had Ontario embraced the Quebec model, where it clearly establishes there are driver's courses that must be taken, and that Uber and other ridesharing companies … had to conform," he said.

"We'd be better off because we are clearly, here and every other jurisdiction in Ontario, entering into, in essence, what is the wild west of ride sharing and the province would've been better off to regulate it right across the province."

Under the rules put in place by Quebec, drivers are required to undergo 35 hours of training and to have a criminal-background check done by a police force.

While Uber initially threatened to leave the province, saying the rules were too restrictive, it later announced it would stay in Quebec after the province announced it would give more time for drivers to undergo background checks - new drivers would have eight months, while current drivers would have two years from the time of their last background check.

Other councillors, however, expressed concerns that the bylaws go too far, and that the city missed an opportunity to be innovative in the taxi and ride sharing sector.

Coun. Mark MacKinnon said Guelph should have gone the route of Barrie.

Last year, councillors approved some changes to its transportation industry bylaw, including lifting the cap on the number of taxis being allowed to operate in the city and allowing cab companies to set their own fares, as opposed to having to charge what the city permits.

"We have a unique opportunity to do something really important now," MacKinnon said.

"They made some really significant manoeuvres ... and I would encourage, whenever drafting the bylaws, to take a strong look at Barrie because ... they are on the cutting edge of where we should be looking at."

Mayor Cam Guthrie also voiced his support for fewer regulations on the taxi industry, citing an experience recently while on a family trip to Florida. He said that, while looking to leave the airport, he was able to shop for the best price for a ride to his destination.

"I had choice, I had some extra money in my pocket," he said

"This is what innovation does, and we need to embrace it."

Coun. Mike Salisbury proposed a motion to refer the bylaw back to staff and to come back with an alternative proposal, which would deal only with public safety and not have separate sections for taxis and ride sharing companies. That proposal failed, with only Salisbury, MacKinnon and Guthrie voting in favour.