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Ride-sharing legal Friday, but the Uber-taxi war rages on
The new rules include a 30-cent fee paid to the city for each ride-sharing trip.
July 14, 2016
Betsy Powell

Toronto’s contentious vehicle-for-hire bylaw comes into effect Friday amid confusion about the legal language, skepticism about enforcement and, despite the intent of the law, no end in sight in the Uber-taxi war.

Bill 571, passed by council May 3, creates a new Private Transportation Company (PTC) licensing category that allows Uber and other such companies to operate legally in Toronto for the first time.

The law also repealed previous taxi reforms and loosened restrictions on the traditional taxi industry, ostensibly to help cabbies compete with Uber and its UberX service, which involves passengers using a smartphone app to book non-professional drivers using their own vehicles.

The new licensing regime doesn’t mean the streets will be flooded with licensed Uber drivers overnight, because the application process will take time.

“Our goal is as soon as possible . . . but we do expect it to take a number of weeks at least, due to volume,” licensing and standards executive director Tracey Cook wrote in email.

As of Friday:

Last week, the province’s insurance regulator announced it had approved an insurance plan that covers ride-sharing passengers. The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) said the “blanket fleet coverage” by Intact Insurance will address a “critical insurance gap” for the industry.

Uber bought the fleet insurance from Intact. It automatically covers all UberX drivers, passengers and vehicle owners from the moment the Uber app is turned on to the moment passengers exit the vehicle, a FSCO official wrote in email.

Intact said in a statement Thursday that “Uber drivers who are driving their vehicle for personal use (that is, when the app is not turned on) will be treated the same as any other driver on the road who is driving his/her own vehicle for personal use. They will not be covered by the Intact Uber commercial policy when the app is turned off.

“It is therefore important that all drivers inform their personal insurer before they participate in ride-sharing, or if there is a change in the way they use their vehicle.”

Susie Heath, a spokesperson for Uber Canada, said the company is advising its drivers to do that.

“In terms of vehicle inspections, Uber covered the costs of inspections for drivers until June 30th. We have also supplied active driver partners with a small, removable sticker with an Uber logo to be displayed in the back window of active vehicles.”

University of Toronto law professor Mariana Valverde said Bill 571 is complicated and its implications uncertain, “even for someone like me who studies municipal bylaws.”

She is still trying to decipher it, but isn’t confident that Uber is about to become a good corporate citizen.

“For years now, Uber has been operating illegally and leaving drivers liable to major lawsuits from passengers — shifting all the legal risks to the drivers, and thumbing their nose at city staff and city council, with their illegal activities condoned by (Mayor) John Tory,” she wrote in email.

Heath said Uber’s insurance meets the requirements laid out in the new rules and that in recent months the company has been “constantly” updating drivers the requirements of the bylaw.

Kristine Hubbard, Beck Taxi’s operations manager, says there is no guarantee some insurers won’t hike premiums of UberX drivers who tell their personal insurer they’re driving for the company.

She also questions how the city will handle thousands of PTC vehicle inspections and enforce the new regulations.

“Am I expecting like what we saw with the pot dispensaries a few weeks ago? No, however I do expect there is going to be reasonable enforcement.”

Cook wrote in email that it would be premature comment on “what, if any, enforcement measures would be taken. Enforcement decisions are dependent on circumstances as they arise.”