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Londoners have to wait until spring for city's next move in standoff with Uber
Feb. 15, 2016
By Debora Van Brenk

As Edmonton becomes Canada’s first city to legalize Uber, amid growing indications Canadians favour such services, London is still enforcing its old-school bylaw against unlicensed rides-for-hire.

But London, one of the Southwestern Ontario markets that ride-hailing colossus Uber pulled into without warning last summer, is “absolutely” looking at other cities’ examples - including the Alberta capital’s - as it reworks its rules that ban UberX, the company’s low-cost ride-sharing option, and similar operations, said Orest Katolyk, the city’s head of bylaw enforcement.

Katolyk is preparing a new draft bylaw for taxis and ride-hailing services that will go before city councillors this spring.

But even if the controversial practice that Uber embodies - moving into a market, setting up shop without following the rules and arguing it’s different because it’s a technology company - is endorsed in some form at some point, the city is still actively looking for scofflaws.

“Enforcement is continuing on all forms of illegal vehicle-for-hire services,” whether offered through Uber, Kijiji or Facebook, Katolyk said.

He wouldn’t say how many tickets or warnings have been issued, saying he can’t share the city’s enforcement protocol.

Last November, he said 25 tickets had been issued. Appeals of those tickets are still working their way through the provincial offences court process.

London allows only licenced taxis and limousines to offer point-to-point ride services.

Taxi drivers have lobbied to keep Uber out of the city, and include among their key arguments that conventional cabs provide riders with predictable rates and insured, safe drivers.

But Edmonton’s experience - starting in March, that city will allow Uber to operate as long as drivers have insurance and more transparent rate structures that place them on a similar playing field as taxi drivers - could offer a template for other cities to follow.

And now that insurance giant Aviva has announced it will offer insurance to Ontario drivers who offer up to 20 hours per week of ride-sharing services, another of the objections may be ready to fall.

“London city council has not closed the door on transportation network companies - we have indicated an openness to continue the conversation pending insurance, which recently has been verified,” said Coun. Virginia Ridley, who chairs council’s community and protective services committee.

UberX launched in London last July, even as other cities began grappling with the service that uses a smartphone app to pair potential riders and drivers who use their personal vehicles.

The fee charged, based on distance travelled, is often less expensive than traditional cab fares except at peak times when prices often soar. (Some London riders on New Year’s Eve, for example, paid UberX drivers several times what they would have paid a conventional cab driver.)

It has been a lingering contentious issue: Among taxi drivers who fear a loss of their livelihoods; among riders demanding a wider range of options and cheaper fares; and among city politicians and administrators who worry about patrons’ safety and fret that existing rules - civic governments regulate the taxi industry - don’t adequately cover the rapid changes in technology in what’s called the sharing economy.

Ridley said she looks forward to seeing proposed revisions, in part because she believes the city has over-regulated the industry.

“Looking at the taxi bylaw again may help us to narrow down areas that we are over-regulating and help to level the playing field - allowing fairness, more competition and more choices for residents,” she said.

While Edmonton could become a model for other cities, it’s not the only one, Katolyk said.

“There are all types of different models for what we call e-hailing.”

Katolyk said he will be reporting back on a number of number of options that address electronic record-keeping, vehicle safety checks and criminal background screening.

He noted that conventional taxi companies have also incorporated social media technology into their services.



In London, the fine for people caught driving “bandit cabs” is $1,000. At least 25 people recently ticketed are challenging them in court, in cases to be heard next month.


“We have said all along, ‘We are fine to compete with Uber as long as they are regulated as we are regulated.” That includes provisions for insurance, vehicle maintenance, driver safety and licensing fees that London cabbies face. He doesn’t support separate provisions in a bylaw for ride-hailing services and conventional cabs. “A taxi is a taxi is a taxi. They do the same thing - why should there be different laws for them as opposed to us?”