Barrie wants to stop the taxi and get out – get out of intensely regulating taxis, ride-sharing programs and designated driver services.
Instead, the city is moving towards creating a safe but free-market environment that will allow taxis, Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services to share the roads and customers in Barrie.
Next Monday, council will finalize a dramatic update to its taxi bylaw, first passed in 2006.
The city has been limiting the number of taxi licences it issues as well as the fares.
But with the arrival of Uber and other app-based ride-sharing services, the city is looking to set basic public safety standards while enabling customers to choose which company to call when they need a ride.
“Every city in the world has struggled with this. How high will the (playing field) be?” said Mayor Jeff Lehman, as councillors debated about how to make the marketplace – or so-called playing field – fair for taxi companies and their drivers as well as those who choose to drive for a ride-sharing program when they have the time.
He said the staff report, which would allow a two-year trial of the new rules, falls a bit short of leveling the field, but it does go a long way in making the marketplace more fair.
“The government’s job is to protect the consumer and ensure safety,” he said. “We’re not wiping out all the regulation. We have pages of new regulations for Uber and designated driving services.
“We know there’s too much bureaucracy. The paint is chipped so your (taxi) is off the road (until it’s fixed). There’s too much of that.”
Barrie struck a taxi industry working group several years ago, at the request of the cab companies. In 2010, there were almost 300 cabs competing for fares; with the help of the committee, the city pared the number of licences it issued to 173, noted the city’s enforcement services supervisor Tammy Banting.
Now the city and its taxi industry working group are trying to respond to the arrival of the ride-sharing sector.
“If there was going to be an impact (on their business), it’s likely already happened,” Banting said.
Uber told the city it has between 301 and 450 drivers in Barrie.
“It doesn’t mean on a daily basis there are 433 available. They log into the app and they’re available for that time. There could be a day when there are only three, four or five (Uber) drivers. There could be peak times when their operators could make themselves more available,” said Banting.
Ward 8 Coun. Arif Khan questioned how many rides each Uber driver is getting, especially as the company reported it tracked 433 trips last fall. He compared it to the real estate industry.
“There are 925 realtors in town and there were less than 900 homes sold. That’s less than one per realtor,” he said, adding that similarly with restaurants, customers choose where they want to eat and the best survive in the marketplace.
“The market will determine the quality of vehicle they want to ride in and the quality of service,” he said.
In its advertising for drivers, Uber requires drivers to be at least age 21 and provide proof of eligibility to work in Canada, vehicle registration and insurance, a driver’s licence and a vehicle inspection certificate. The company also requires prospective drivers to undertake a criminal record check and have their driving history examined.
In Toronto, Uber drivers’ cars must have four doors that work, no visible damage and no commercial branding. According to the Uber website, there is an age limit on cars that are eligible: In Toronto, it’s 2010 and in the GTA, 2007.
There are no age limits on taxis in Barrie, Banting noted, and the proposed regulations for the ride-sharing companies stipulate “in good repair and insured.”
Khan suggested Barrie require ride-sharing cars to be clearly identified, so passengers know when their ride pulls up outside the bar.
“They shouldn’t have to go and check out the licence plate,” he said, adding there should be a big U for Uber. “A permanent, visible decal should be there.”
Ultimately, he said, riders should have the power to decide by voting with their dollars.
“The consumer will be the one to determine whether to get into the cheapest cab, held together with duct tape. It’ll be up to the commercial taxi industry to pull together.”
Lehman said he expects councillors will hear more this week.
“The government’s job is to protect consumers and ensure safety,” the mayor stressed again. “We’re not just wiping out all the regulations (for taxis). We have pages of new regulations for Uber and designated drivers; they’re not regulated at all.”