Changes brought by ridesharing apps help shape new taxi bylaw

Loay Hashem has been driving a taxi with Waterloo taxi for almost five years now. The changes recently made in the regional vehicle for hire bylaw now allow rideshare and app-based programs like Uber to operate within Waterloo Region.

For nearly two years, app-based transportation companies such as Uber have been the source of debate and discussion in Waterloo Region council chambers, and now, for some, the issue has been laid to rest.

A newly-written vehicle for hire bylaw has put protections in place that allow ride-sharing applications, like Uber and Waterloo-based RideCo, to operate, as long as they have insurance. The bylaw was approved at the Sept. 21 council meeting.

Regional chair Ken Seiling, says the process wasn’t easy, but councillors did their best to make sure customers of the previously unregulated transportation app, Uber and others, were protected.

“We already have the taxi bylaw, largely to provide customer protection through insurance, criminal checks and fares and those sorts of things,” he said. “So the question was how do we mesh an application-based approach (with current bylaws). It is happening, and it is here. We spent many months, as did many other municipalities, crafting something.”

He says the idea was to put Uber and ridesharing drivers on an even playing field with current taxi drivers and companies.

“It was an effort to balance out public safety and new technology with traditional transportation methods. There was a lot of debate and a lot of angst, particularly from taxi drivers,” said Seiling.

Some of that angst came from Waterloo Taxi president and driver Pete Neufeld. He says the idea of a level playing field was a myth.

“I am just disappointed. They missed the mark greatly,” he said, citing the cost of running a business and the still-unfair rules placed on cabbies versus rideshare drivers. “You can have a guy on a cell phone and working in a hour. We, on the other hand, have a fairly comprehensive training process before we let someone out on the road. We want the drivers we put behind the wheel to be knowledgeable about the city, and also to give a customer a cost-effective ride.”

The insurance rates for taxi drivers versus Uber drivers is also a point of contention for Neufeld.

“Our insurance, our best rate is at $6,500 a year. If we get one ticket, we get crucified,” he said. “The Uber insurance plan, we had some guys sign up for investigative purposes, and I think it was $89 a month they have to pay. It is a huge difference. There are some of our guys that are paying almost $1,000 a month just to go to work, before they even turn the wheel.”

Seiling says the apps are here to stay and council did the best they could to accommodate everyone.

“The reality is that some of these technologies are changing the ways things are done,” he said. “I think the bylaw revisions were an effort to balance off the various competing interests.”

The region will be keeping an eye on how the bylaw works after it goes into effect on Dec. 1 this year.

“I like to think that we have found the right spot for it, and we will monitor it over the next year and see how it goes,” said Seiling. “Our interest is really in a system that makes sure that we have the clients’ safety first and foremost.”

Neufeld wants to see some further revision on the bylaw, making the “playing field” a bit more level.

“Hopefully once they see that this isn’t going to work, and that they really haven’t made it much of a level playing field, they will take another look,” he said.

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