Toronto is bringing in mandatory training requirements for drivers of Uber, Lyft and other such companies, but is deferring the question of whether there should be a cap on the number of these vehicles.
Council voted Thursday to amend the city’s vehicle-for-hire rules in dozens of ways, passing the updated rules by a large majority. One of the most potentially transformative changes is in the area of driving training, where council reversed its decision of three years ago.
In 2016, council decided to remove training requirements for taxi drivers and not impose them for Private Transportation Companies (PTCs) such as Uber Technologies Inc., in what was characterized as an attempt to level the playing field. That decision has faced increasing attention, particularly after the death of a young man killed in a collision while riding in an Uber.
Nick Cameron died last year while being driven to Toronto’s airport. The driver was charged with dangerous driving and the court heard that he didn’t know his way around Toronto, that he pulled off the highway after dropping his phone and then drove directly into the path of another vehicle.
“The more I hear his story, the more it saddens me,” Councillor Mike Layton said. “Nick’s story shows the consequences of leaving ride-sharing companies in Toronto unregulated.”
The regulatory changes approved Thursday include a requirement that all vehicle-for-hire drivers – which includes drivers of taxis, limos and PTCs – complete a third-party training that meets criteria established by the city’s head of licensing. Council also directed the licensing head to “give consideration” to programs that included an in-car and/or in-class component.
This change brings Toronto into line with cities such as Montreal, Calgary, Chicago and New York, all of which require both taxi and PTC drivers to be trained.
Mr. Cameron’s mother, Cheryl Hawkes, has become an outspoken advocate for safety training for Uber drivers, calling for meaningful instruction. On Thursday, she said that city staff had recently stated that there was no need for an in-car examination, which they argued would be redundant for people who already held a driver’s licence.
“The in-car training was, to me, a really important thing,” she said in a phone interview. “This is something that wasn’t even in the conversation a year and a half ago.”
In an e-mailed statement, Uber spokesman Josh McConnell would not comment on whether the firm would continue to operate in the city if such training is required.
Council put a number of issues over until another day. Among the questions being punted back to staff for more study are whether there should be mandatory in-car cameras, the feasibility of safety measures such as side mirrors that let passengers see cyclists and whether there should be restrictions on the maximum number of hours drivers can work in a 24-hour period.
Another question left unresolved was whether there is a logical maximum to the number of vehicles-for-hire that should be allowed to operate in the city, with a report on that due back in the third quarter of 2020.
Staff say there are approximately 90,000 PTC drivers licensed with the city, but that an average of 3,500 of them are operating at any given time and they are not having an appreciable effect on congestion.
“I frankly don’t believe that,” said Kristine Hubbard, operations manager for Beck Taxi, the city’s largest brokerage. “The idea that it’s not creating traffic and congestion, I just don’t buy it.”
Thursday’s proceedings were a shadow of the heated debates that happened in past years on this file. Earlier rounds included hundreds of spectators, largely from the taxi industry, additional security and day-long proceedings. On Thursday, there were only a few dozen onlookers, the debate took barely 90 minutes and Uber’s supporters on council generally kept quiet rather than make their case.
In spite of pointed questions about jobs being killed by technology, congestion, safety and environmental protections, the package of regulatory changes eventually received overwhelming support.
The only dissenting vote was from Councillor Gord Perks, who gave a passionate speech about not abandoning government regulation in the face of a large corporation. His motion to ban PTCs from the city was voted down 17-6.