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Uber supercharges city hall lobbying tactics

The logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone over a reserved lane for taxis in a street is seen in this photo illustration taken in Madrid on December 10, 2014. Authorities in New Delhi have set Uber Technologies Inc a Feb. 25 deadline to provide supporting details for the online taxi-hailing firm’s application to operate in the city.

SERGIO PEREZ

Uber has stepped up its lobbying efforts at Toronto City Hall with a campaign asking its users to urge councillors to abandon "outdated regulations."

App-based taxi service Uber has been locked in a standoff with the City of Toronto after the city filed a court injunction last year accusing the company of flouting taxi regulations, and requesting it cease operations in Toronto. As the case awaits its May court date, the Silicon Valley-based company has been lobbying councillors, urging them to rewrite existing regulations – and this week, asked its own users to join the campaign.

"As a top rider in Toronto, you may be aware that the future of ridesharing in this city could soon be threatened by outdated regulations," read an e-mail sent Wednesday from Uber Ontario manager Ian Black. "Transportation hasn't always been affordable and easy. And, it won't stay that way without your vocal support for ridesharing." The e-mail says the company plans to organize a phone and letter-writing campaign for users to reach out to city councillors directly.

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The mobile app pairs riders with paid drivers, and executives argue that, as a technology company, it should not be subject to traditional taxi licensing regulations.

According to a search of the city's lobbyist registrar, in recent months Uber has registered to lobby almost all 45 members of city council, including Mayor John Tory.

Uber Canada spokeswoman Susie Heath said the company has tens of thousands of riders in Toronto each week, and that the e-mail was sent to its "top riders." She said the e-mail was part of an "ongoing effort to engage riders and gauge their interest in the political issues shaping ridesharing," adding that the effort is still in its "initial phases."

City Councillor Gord Perks, a vocal opponent of the ride-sharing app, said that he met with Uber, during which the company attempted to convince him that councillors should work to create new regulations specifically aimed at ride-sharing.

Since its launch in 2009, Uber has been plagued with controversies, and growing criticism over its safety and privacy practices. And Toronto, along with cities around the world, has struggled with regulating the service. Just this week, Germany issued a nationwide ban on the company. At the same time, New York's taxi and limousine commission announced that Uber cars now outnumber the city's iconic yellow cabs.

"What they told me is they want a different set of rules," Mr. Perks said of his meeting with Uber. "A lot of businesses want a special deal. We're not in the business of special deals. If Beck [Taxi] said, 'We want a special deal over Co-Op [Cabs],' I would show them the door."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that Uber has lobbied all 45 members of city council. In fact, Uber has registered to lobby almost all members of city council.

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About the Author
National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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