British Columbia interested in regulating sharing companies

Canadian provinces are increasingly turning their attention to Uber, with British Columbia the latest to voice its interest in the ride-sharing company. Peter Fassbender, the minister for community, sport and culture in B.C. said on Thursday that the government is looking into the ride-sharing economy, which includes companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb.
That opened the door to such companies being regulated in the province, something that has been hard to achieve in other Canadian regions. Fassbender said he would need to listen to arguments from all sides before deciding what B.C. will do in the future.

“Before we even articulate what that is, is we want to respect all of the parties by hearing from them and getting their input,” Fassbender told CBC News Thursday.

Taxi unions have been the most common opposition to the UberX ride-sharing service, seeing the company as an illegal competitor that endangers the traditional taxi industry. Fassbender said he will meet with taxi industry representatives, but he is unlikely to find much support for Uber, even if the company is to be regulated in B.C.

British Columbia has so far been successful in keeping Uber out of the province, something that has proved more difficult for other municipalities around the country. However, Fassbender said if B.C. decides to regulate sharing companies properly, it is unlikely to happen any time soon.

“It’s not going to happen in this session,” he said. “But the work that we do to lay the groundwork for the future is the important part of it.”

Uber has recently been legalized in Edmonton if the company can adhere to several stipulations put in place by the city. The vote has been widely welcomed and is now an example of how Canadian cities can adopt Uber, although other cities are struggling to follow Edmonton’s lead.

No legal action against Uber says Toronto mayor

Taxi drivers said they would seek an injunction against Uber in Toronto, but the city council voted on Wednesday and decided the unions will have to wait. The council says it will not take legal action against Uber at the moment, but will look at the matter again in the summer.
The latest round of government vs. Uber vs. taxi industry vs. government did little to ease tensions that have been building since Uber made its debut in Ontario during 2014. Taxi drivers once again were vocal in their criticism of the government’s ruling, but the council said that its decision sends Uber a clear message, even if legal action will not be sought right now.

“Our professional advice that we received from our lawyers and regulators was to the effect that we were not going to have the best chance at being successful in an injunction brought at this time,” Mayor John Tory said.

Any application for an injunction, which is a course taxi driver unions want to take, will not be heard until the summer, at least. The city says this sends a message to Uber;

“We are sending a clear message to Uber,” Coun. Janet Davis said. “We are quite prepared and we are directing our staff to launch an injunction at the right time.”

Last year the city voted to regulate the controversial UberX service and since then the situation has got worse, not better. Firstly Uber did not comply with a city request to cease operations until regulations are in place (likely the end of 2016), and then taxi drivers protested the decision to regulate the company, bringing Downtown Toronto to a standstill.

Uber has won some major victories in recent weeks, most notably the vote in Edmonton last week that will see the city legalize the UberX service. Taxi associations are furious at that decision, but Uber will be legal in Edmonton from March 1 if it complies with several city demands.

In many ways, the path to a legalized Uber should be easier in Toronto, because the province of Ontario now has something that others in Canada do not. Aviva Canada’s new ride-sharing auto insurance policy will make its debut this month, giving Uber drivers their first ever legitimate coverage. The Ontario exclusive policy (Aviva will expand it with time) means taxi drivers have one less objection to the illegal UberX service in place.

However, until the city takes decisive action one way or another, the merry go round will keep going.

FSCO approves Aviva Canada ride-sharing policy

The Financial Service Commission of Ontario has granted regulatory approval to Aviva Canada to launch its ride-sharing specific auto insurance policy in the province. The policy is a huge help to controversial ride-sharing company Uber as it gives its drivers their first ever auto insurance coverage. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) described the policy as a first of its kind in Canada.
Aviva Canada
The most interesting result of the FSCO’s decision is that it leaves UberX operatives in Canada’s largest province covered for the first time, but those same drivers are still working in Ontario illegally. That’s because Uber is still yet to receive regulatory permission in the province, in other words the UberX service has not been legalized.
Aviva says it is fulfilling a customer need and filling a space in the market.

“There are a lot of people out there trying to make some extra money, and that’s a great thing, but they’re doing it without the appropriate coverage for themselves and for their passengers as well,” said spokesman Glenn Cooper.

Toronto has recently voted to regulate Uber, but changes have not been implemented yet, while a bill to potentially legalize ride-sharing services in Ontario is still waiting to go before the committees. Champion of that bill, Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak, has described Aviva’s policy as a major step forward and urged the province to legalize sharing companies.

“The longer we delay on an overall ride-sharing legislative framework the less help it is for cabbies, for Uber drivers, for customers and I’m worried that situation, that tension, is going to escalate if the province does not act,” he said.

However, the taxi industry remains hugely critical of Uber and opposition to the company is never likely to cease, even if the company is legalized and regulated fairly. Taxi associations have protested Uber and think the company provides illegal and unfair competition, and as such they have also spoke critically of Aviva’s policy.

“We are very concerned that an Aviva announcement that ‘an approved product exists and is available for purchase’ will be misconstrued by politicians to mean ‘20,000 illegal UberX drivers are now insured,’ Toronto Taxi Alliance president Gail Souter and Canadian Taxicab Association president Marc Andre Way wrote in a letter to Aviva.

Aviva Canada released a statement on its media relations page last week saying that it does not endorse Uber or any other ride-sharing company.

Ottawa secret report predicted Uber’s problems

Mobilitt durch CarsharingA behind closed doors study conducted by the Ottawa government looked into the impact sharing companies (such as Uber and Lyft) would have on various aspects of Canadian economy and industry.

The “in-depth” study was carried out by a team including high-ranking federal bureaucrats, a team comprised of five deputy ministers and a team of analysts. The subsequent report delved into aspects of ride-sharing companies like Uber and sought to weigh the positives and negatives on the Canadian economy, and how the service would impact local municipalities, rival industries, and consumers.

The secret study was leaked a year after the final report in February 2015, which arrived mere months after Uber made its debut in the Canadian market. Since then the UberX service has expanded and been adopted by drivers and consumers, but has courted controversy in every city amongst local authorities and taxi driver associations.

The report found that local governments would struggle to find ways to regulate Uber as sharing companies by their nature are hard to govern. It is certainly true of Uber as the company has operated since arriving in Canada as an illegal and unregulated entity. Edmonton became the first city to legalize the UberX service last week, with its laws set to come into action after March 1, 2016.

Another area the report discussed was how companies such as Uber have employees who are not insured. Again, it proved an accurate prediction of the market as Uber’s drivers have so far operated in Canada without sufficient auto insurance. Aviva Canada announced last month that it will launch a ride-sharing specific auto insurance policy, although it won’t launch until later in February and is exclusive to the Ontario market, which is home to some 20,000 Uber drivers.

“The fact that the sharing economy will create winners and losers is obvious,” the report reads. “What remains to be determined is what the overall impact will be on Canadian society and the degree to which proactive government responses can positively shape the outcomes of sharing economy.”

“For instance, in most cases, sharing-economy companies do not provide insurance, benefits, or training to their workers,” the report reads. “This shifts the risks onto individual sharing economy workers who remain unprotected and unsure of their rights and responsibilities.”

Quebec taxi drivers push back against Uber

Edmonton reached the historic decision to legalize Uber last week, a move that has been praised and seen several authorities say other Canadian municipalities should follow suit. However, while governments across the country are warming to the UberX ride-sharing service, taxi drivers and their unions remain fiercely opposed.

UberX Insurance
UberX Insurance

In Quebec, a taxi union is going after Uber aggressively this week, looking to take an injunction out against the United States based company. Regroupement des travailleurs autonomes Métallos represents more than 4,000 taxi drivers and owners across the province and in its general assembly held in Montreal on Sunday, the union decided to take drastic action against Uber.

The group believes the UberX service is unfair competition because it is operating in the province without regulation, essentially serving Quebec consumers as an illegal service. The union thinks the local municipal government should take charge of the situation and clamp down on Uber’s operations in Quebec, unless the company complies by existing taxi laws and regulations.

Regroupement des travailleurs autonomes Métallos now says it will seek an injunction against Uber, meaning the company would have to stop working in Quebec. That injunction could come as soon as Tuesday, but evidence from other regions in the country suggests Uber will carry on operating in Quebec regardless of authority pressure.

A spokesman speaking for the San Francisco based company said as much, while adding that any union injunction would be “without merit”.

“As we have seen from Superior Courts rulings across Canada, Uber is a new transportation model distinct from the traditional taxi industry,” said spokesman Jean-Christophe De Le Rue.

The taxi driver union said that it will also be taking a court action against Uber in a bid to recoup loss of earnings drivers say they suffered because of the illegal competition UberX brought to the province.

Toronto could learn from Edmonton regarding Uber, says Mayor Tory

Edmonton became the first Canadian city to legalize Uber and the UberX ride-sharing service after a city council vote earlier this week. The move could be an example to other Canadian cities, including Toronto, which itself has already made moves to accept Uber. However, the council is still largely divided on ride-sharing companies in Canada’s largest city, but Toronto Mayor John Tory praised Alberta’s capital for its historic vote.

“What we are trying to do here is exactly what they have done, which is to fashion a bylaw which achieves a balance,” Tory said. “They’ve come up with one answer to that in Edmonton, which we can learn from.”

The city of Toronto was the first to vote favorably for Uber, agreeing to create regulations for the company in October last year. However, regulations and changes to the law that will accommodate UberX have not yet been created, and the U.S. based company has compounded the issue by continuing to operate in Toronto even though the council asked it to halt operations in the city until regulations are created.
Tory said the challenge for the city is creating a bylaw and then having it passed through the council via a vote. There is still opposition to Uber in the Toronto City Council, with some members siding with the traditional taxi service in a confrontation that is continually looking like a pitch battle. Edmonton’s breakthrough this week could point Toronto in the direction it needs to go to accept Uber, with the Alberta city even getting Uber to comply to some rules.

Indeed, it seems Uber is willing to meet some stipulations if the company feels it is being accommodated by a municipality. For example, the San Francisco giant agreed with the city of Edmonton to stop operations in the area until it is legalized on March 1. It is a stark contrast to the Toronto situation, where Uber decided not to cease operating in the city while the council dallies over what to do next.

Tory has been critical of that stance, but he has voiced again that there is a way forward for the UberX service to be adopted in Toronto. Councillor Jim Karygiannis, a known supporter of the taxi service, is less enthused about Uber and says he is “very concerned” by Tory’s comments:

“I am surprised that the mayor this morning said that we should let council not decide, we should let the legal department decide if we have an injunction or not,” Karygiannis said. “I believe that it’s up to council to decide.”

Edmonton may have trailed a blaze and showed other Canadian cities a viable way to legalize Uber, but Toronto’s path to the same conclusion is expected to take longer. Indeed, a breakthrough may not come until the end of the year, which is when the Toronto licensing staff are expected to make recommendations on how the city could regulate Uber.

CRA sued Uber in bid to audit company

Uber still has its hands full in Canada as the company continues to stir up a myriad of controversies. After running afoul of municipalities around the country, the ride-sharing giant also faced the brunt of the Canadian government and was sued for failing to comply with an audit request.
The government had been attempting to carry out an audit on Uber Canada since last February, but the company did not respond to the income tax check. 29 requests were then sent since after initial call, and Uber has ignored 13 of those requests, while only offering partial responses to 16. In all instances the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) says Uber failed to hand over its books for official inspection.

After granting numerous extensions on the deadline, the government patience wore thin and in October the CRA took Uber to court in a bid to force the company to open its books. Uber, for its part, says that the requests were for routine audits and that is complied with the CRA at every opportunity, despite CRA accusations that the company offered “excuses” for why it could not produces its financial details.

“The Minister sought and continues to seek the respondent’s books, records and documents in order to determine whether (Uber) has complied with its duties and obligations under the Income Tax Act and properly computed and reported taxable income,” reads the filing.

Uber says the court action was filed the same day as the deadline, October 16, and that was the day the company sent its books to be audited. Arguably the U.S. based ride-sharing giant was correct, as the court filing from the CRA was dropped 11 days after it was initiated.

Vancouver mayor urges B.C. changes to accommodate Uber

British Columbia has been one of the fiercest opponents to the expansion of Uber and the UberX ride-sharing service, putting up a big fight against the U.S. based company in the province. Now the Mayor of Vancouver is urging the province to change its laws for regulating taxis to allow for Uber to enter B.C. legally.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said the current system in British Columbia is problematic and needs reform to open the door for ride-sharing companies.

“B.C. currently lacks a modern regulatory framework to enable these new transportation technologies while ensuring proper standards are met,” Mr. Robertson wrote earlier this month in a letter to Transportation Minister Todd Stone.

It seems as though Robertson is saying that Vancouver, the largest city in British Columbia, is willing to accept Uber legally, which would fly in the face of the general mood coming from B.C. as a province.

“The first step for regulating such services starts with the B.C. government’s Passenger Transportation Board and the Ministry of Transportation,” Mr. Robertson wrote in the Jan. 5 letter.

“We urge you to work with local governments in the region as well as the taxi industry and other key stakeholder groups to put in place regulations that enable ride-sharing while addressing the need for all companies to provide proper insurance, driver training, service for people with disabilities and meet environmental standards.”

Mayor Robertson was speaking before Edmonton voted to legalize Uber, making it the first Canadian municipality to welcome Uber positively. It is unclear if Edmonton’s lead will be followed by other cities in the country or whether those opposed to Uber will continue to attempt blocking the company’s expansion.

Vancouver has been one of the most successful cities at stopping the operations of Uber within its limits and indeed the UberX service has still not arrived in the city.

Uber is now legal in Edmonton

The city of Edmonton has become the first municipality in Canada to vote for the legalization of Uber and the UberX ride-sharing service. After two days of debates that were plagued by protests from taxi drivers, the city decided to amend a bylaw that allows Uber to operate in Edmonton.
Uber Edmonton
The decision is the first of its kind in the country and will come into effect from March 1, 2016. In reaching its verdict, the City Council actually managed to get some concessions from Uber. Indeed, Edmonton has achieved things that other cities have simply failed to do.

The decision is based on the caveat that UberX drivers must have legal auto insurance coverage before March 1, 2016. Uber has agreed to cease operations in Edmonton until that time, something other cities have been unable to get the company to do. The U.S. based ride-share firm also agreed to the cities minimum ride fee of $3.25 after previously saying it was against a minimum fare.

Uber will also have to pay a flat rate of $70,000 per year to operate in the city.

The auto insurance conundrum is now the biggest obstacle facing Uber in Edmonton and if things remain as they are now then Uber drivers will not be insured by March 1 and the company will not be able to begin operations in the city.

Aviva Canada recently announced an auto insurance policy designed for ride-sharing companies such as Uber, the company will debut the coverage in February. The problem for Uber in Edmonton is that Aviva’s coverage is only arriving in Ontario for time being, although the legalization of Uber in Edmonton could push Aviva to expand its policy.

Either way, at the moment Uber is not in a position to fulfill its side of the Edmonton deal and arrive in the city March 1, but the company is not worried:

“We’re going to be doing everything we can to make sure that we’re in compliance by March 1st,” Ramit Kar, Uber’s general manager for Alberta, said.

Uber using GPS to ensure good driving

Aviva Canada’s recent announcement of an auto insurance policy to cover ride-sharing services like Uber means one major problem has been solved. However, until the policy makes its debut (likely in February) drivers working for the UberX service in Canada are doing so without adequate insurance.

Making sure those drivers operate safely and within the law is becoming a priority for Uber and the company is devising a new system it will use moving forward.

Many customers have complained about UberX employees driving erratically, poorly, or breaking speed limits, and auto insurance policy or not, that is unacceptable. Uber tends to agree and the company is starting tests to use GPS tracking in smartphones to tell how a driver is operating their vehicle:

“Gyrometers in phones can measure small movements, while GPS and accelerometers show how often a vehicle starts and stops, as well as its overall speed,” explains Joe Sullivan, Uber’s chief security officer. “If a rider complains that a driver accelerated too fast and broke too hard, we can review that trip using data.”

Using smartphone technology is of course fitting for Uber as its whole model is built around mobile technology. Drivers and consumers connect via a smartphone app, so the company knows its employees are connected, making GPS tracking easily possible. The company says it can use this method to warn their drivers to rectify their driving before taking harsher measures.

This is hugely encouraging that the company seems to be building a system to keep passengers (and indeed drivers) safer. Earlier today it emerged that the U.S. based firm is looking to protect its drivers from drunk passenger by putting a distraction toy on the rear seat. There is no word on whether the bizarre test paid off.

The company has not said which regions will be getting this GPS tracking, or whether it will come to Canada at all, but the presumption is that it will be rolled out globally. That means Canadian UberX passengers will soon have drivers in fully insured cars thanks to Aviva Canada, and Uber enforcing a rule of good driving via GPS.