Taxi drivers protest “illegal” UberX with mass demonstration
Credit: SPBer/Wikimedia Commons.
On the morning of December 8, slow-moving lines of taxis and limousines streamed into downtown Toronto from four gathering spots outside the city core. The processions delayed rush hour traffic on the Don Valley Parkway and Highway 404, and clogged the roads near Queen’s Park before gradually winding their way to the intersection of Queen and Bay, where they blocked traffic outside City Hall.
The demonstration, which effectively crippled Toronto’s downtown roadways, aimed to shed light on the effect Uber – an app-based ridesharing company that has emerged as a direct, popular competitor to Toronto’s cab services – iss having on taxi drivers’ livelihoods.
Public reaction to the protest has been largely negative. Toronto Chief of Police Mark Saunders expressed disappointment in the tactic, suggesting that “putting the public at risk” was not going to help the drivers’ cause. Mayor John Tory called the demonstration “unacceptable,” “dangerous,” and “a disservice to the drivers who I know are working very hard and are struggling.” And an Uber Canada spokesperson expressed “alarm” at the act, saying “we believe that open collaboration is the best path forward.”
Uber has been operational in Toronto since 2012, but it was the emergence of its UberX service in September 2014 that sparked controversy. While the original Uber service connected riders to professional drivers, UberX drivers aren’t required to purchase taxi licences, which allows them to offer rides at a cheaper rate than taxis. The result, according to Sajid Mughal of the iTaxi Workers Association, has been a substantial drop in cab drivers’ earnings.
Taxi drivers believe that UberX is an “illegal” service, and that City Hall must act to level the playing field. “We are fighting for our livelihood, we must take some action right now,” said Mughal. “We have been suffering for almost a year, if we don’t take this action, this suffering will carry on. We must stand up and say enough is enough, this is illegal activity.”
Whether or not Uber’s service is illegal remains an issue of contention across Canada. This July, an Ontario judge agreed sided with Uber in its legal battle against the city of Toronto, saying there was “no evidence” that the company operates as a taxi broker. However, different municipalities have come to different conclusions. In Ottawa, Uber is illegal, but the city is working on legislation to regulate the service. Kitchener has already decided on regulation, while Hamilton and Edmonton are moving towards a similar conclusion. On the other hand, Calgary has halted the company’s operations, as has Vancouver.
In Toronto, the story is evolving. Mayor John Tory prefers the regulation option over an outright ban, and hopes to update the city’s rules to create a level playing field between taxis and ridesharing services. Until the new rules come into effect, Uber will continue operating outside of the law, which is bad news for taxi services. As of September 2015, Torontonians had taken nearly 4.5 million UberX trips in the city, with drivers earning upwards of $50-million.