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Barrie councillors look at pilot project

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Reducing taxi regulations and creating licensing for Uber is on Barrie councillors' radar Monday.

They will consider a motion to allow a pilot project, effective July 1, that would regulate ride-sharing and driver-for-hire operations, as well as cutting licencing provisions for the city's taxi business.

The intention is to create a more level playing field in Barrie. Uber is a ride-sharing business which generally offers lower prices than licensed taxis, in part because it does not have the same level of regulation.

Melvin Woods of Deluxe Taxi, who has been in the business for more than 40 years, says he's not impressed by the proposed pilot project – particularly because the city would no longer set uniform fares.

“They're going to let us charge (in fares) what we feel like charging? That's ludicrous. I don't think that will fly,” he said. “You can't de-regulate the fare and tell me to charge whatever I feel like charging. That's not acceptable to the public.

“I'd rather have a uniform fare, regulated by the city, because you will get fighting, you'll get people just undercutting each other. It will just be a cut-throat business.”

He would prefer Uber have the same fares, for example, as city taxi companies.

The city says its taxi industry regulations are inadequate to deal with riding-sharing or driver-for-hire businesses, and don't allow the taxi industry to compete fairly.

The taxi industry is heavily regulated while companies like Uber and drive-for-hire operations are functioning under a different business model, one without municipal regulations.

The city notes Uber has become a multi-million-dollar industry by providing its service.

Coun. Michael Prowse is chairman of the city's finance and corporate committee, which discussed this matter last year. He said the pilot project does an excellent job of levelling the playing field by regulating the taxi, ride-share and driver-for-hire operations.

“This pilot will provide administrative and cost relief for everyone, while at the same time allowing the city to do what we should, which is to use legislation to protect our residents,” Prowse said.

“It is not the government's job to try and control pricing and product supply; the economy and their business model and performance will determine that. This new model will focus our resources on consumer protection while at the same time cutting unnecessary red tape.

“I believe the results of the pilot will likely lead to even further elimination of regulations and administrative costs, which will be good for everyone,” he said.

The pilot project would include certain minimum standards – drivers having a valid provincial licence, a good driving record, a criminal background check and being adequately insured.

Their vehicles must be in good repair, and insured to protect the driver and fares.

The proposed changes would increase taxi cab company licensing fees by $79 this year to $534 for the city's 10 companies, but lower licences by $128 to $237 for the city's 293 drivers and by $132 to $303 for Barrie's 173 taxis.

Uber has told the city it has between 301 and 450 active drivers in Barrie and that 433 trips were booked here from August to November last year. The licensing for its drivers and vehicles would be $6,888 in total under the proposed fees.

Uber has also proposed that it pay the city 11 cents per trip, to allow the city to recover any additional costs associated with administering and enforcing its business.

It's estimated Barrie has 10 or fewer drive-for-hire companies, with less than 10 drivers. Under the proposed fees, the combined licensing for drivers and vehicles would be $303.

Both Woods and Erwin Giles of Barrie Taxi have said in the past Uber needs to be regulated in a similar fashion to taxi companies.

Insurance is a prime concern. Every taxi needs to have an endorsement on its insurance policy, a special add-on so passengers can be carried for compensation.

Taxis also need to have safety inspections and the driver needs to have a criminal check, plus pay for insurance.

In February of 2016, the Insurance Bureau of Canada approved coverage for drivers using ride-hailing services like Uber, for those carrying paying passengers in their own vehicles.

Last September city council established a sharing economy task force to have staff draft regulations relating to Uber, and the ride-sharing business, as part of the on-going Transportation Business Licensing Bylaw review. 

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