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Barrie councillors shaking up taxi industry

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

City councillors are looking at fewer regulations for Barrie's taxis, and more for ride-sharing businesses like Uber.

City councillors are looking at fewer regulations for Barrie's taxis, and more for ride-sharing businesses like Uber.

Barrie’s streets are being levelled out for city taxis and Uber cars.

Councillors gave initial approval Monday to create regulations and licensing costs for ride-sharing, while reducing them for the taxi industry.

A two-year pilot project, effective July 1, would regulate ride-sharing and driver-for-hire operations, as well as cutting licencing provisions for the city's cab company.

“Every city in the world has struggled with this issue,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said. “This is a very different approach than most cities are taking.

“My fear, though, is if we leave the situation as it is, what we’re essentially doing is saying is one industry, hyper-regulated, prices fixed, limited supply and then a whole grey industry that’s going to undermine the established industry,” he said. “If we do nothing, then everybody’s going to be in a much bigger mess in the future.”

City council will consider final approval of the pilot project at its March 27 meeting.

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.

“The sharing economy is here to stay,” said Coun. Peter Silveira. “If you think the sharing economy is going away, that’s just a dream.

“I’m not here to say no to Uber. It is here to stay.”

But Silveira does not feel the playing field has been sufficiently levelled, and was the only councillor to vote against the changes.

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.

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 city wants to get out of some of the things that are not public safety related,” said city clerk Dawn McAlpine, also the city’s director of legislative and court services.

“It’s not about Uber. It’s about private transportation companies.”

The city would no longer set uniform fares, for example.

“I think the market will adapt and pull up boot straps to meet the demand of the public,” said Coun. Arif Khan.

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.

Both Lehman and Coun. Barry Ward said they had doubts Uber has anywhere near that many active drivers in Barrie.

Jeff Wilton, who identifies himself as an Uber driver here, says there are nowhere near 300 others in Barrie.

“There’s maybe 20, but likely fewer,” he said. “There’s about five to eight who do the busy nights of Friday/Saturday, and I know most of them on a first-name basis.

“I’m wondering if a driver went online once in some specific period of time, that Uber is counting them as active, which is false.”

Lehman also said he does not yet believe the playing field has been levelled, in part because taxi drivers would still pay a licensing fee, albeit lower, while ride-sharing drivers and drivers-for-hire would not.

He hinted an amendment dealing with this inequity could be coming at the March 27 meeting.

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.

Barrie cab companies 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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