Council votes to regulate ride share companies

Photo by Austin Distel.

Kingston City Council met on Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2021, for a shorter-than-average yet eventful regularly scheduled Council meeting (agenda available here).

The first delegation of the night saw James Allan, Chairman of the Kingston Area Taxi Licensing Commission, speaking to Council about the intent and need for the proposed ‘Taxi Commission and Ride Share Regulation Harmonization’ being recommended by CAO Hurdle in a report.

“The taxi commission regulates taxi companies in Kingston and Loyalist, and it deems its main objective is to ensure safety and fairness for the customers and drivers. Customers expect to be safe and they expected to be treated fairly, when they’re using a taxi,” Allan began.

“Ride sharing has been operating in Kingston over the past several years,” he continued, noting that, although ride sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft deny operating in Kingston, but do nonetheless. “Customers deserve the same assurances that they are safe when they use ride sharing companies.”

Allan explained that attempting to regulate ride sharing in Kingston is not a new concept. It is a matter City Council has discussed several times, and something many councillors expressed they receive correspondence about regularly – both from constituents and ride share companies. The Taxi Commission itself attempted to bring about ride share regulations in 2016 through the implementation of bylaws, Allan said, but that attempt was thwarted when a new provincial statute was created, which did not allow the Commission “to extend our authority to cover rideshares.”

“That put us in a bit of a dilemma,” he expressed.

Since then, the Taxi Commission has charged seven Uber drivers with illegal operation of a taxicab, Allan said. Those charges are currently before the courts.

“The reality is that rideshare services are going to continue to exist, they’re not going to go away. As in other municipalities, effective and efficient regulations, need to be implemented for our municipality to ensure that rideshare services are safe and fair for the customers that they serve,” he said, noting that local taxi drivers are concerned about Uber drivers flooding the area from the GTA, Toronto, and Ottawa on weekends, inundating the weekend business that taxi drivers normally enjoy.”

“This activity is expected to increase once the pandemic is resolved. Rideshare services desperately need to be regulated similar to the Kingston taxis. The Commission is interested in seeing both taxis and rideshare services regulated in a similar and consistent regulatory framework,” Allan concluded, noting that the Commission consulted with the City of Ottawa in order to bring this recommendation before Council. “We require the cooperation and coordination with the City to ensure that this is implemented. After all, fairness in the industry is a must.”

Allan then answered questions from Council about the recommendation, primarily about what has been done in other municipalities (many of which have had ride share regulations in place through bylaws for several years), and the need to align ride share companies with local taxi companies in terms of safety and fairness.

Councillor Jim Neill asked a few questions about the Taxi Commission’s authority in relation to the creation of ride share regulations.

“It’s my understanding that the Taxi Commission, under the provincial legislation – unless it’s changed – are the governing body, and not Council, is that still accurate?” Neill posed.

Allan responded that Neill was correct. The Commission was brought into legislation by the provincial government back in the late 80s, and has been in place since that time, he said, noting that, when the legislation was written, only taxi cabs were being considered.

“Now ride shares are here, and they’ve changed the equation,” he said.

Neill then asked if Allan foresees the Commission as being the appropriate body to ensure safety, full insurance, and other ride share issues. Allan responded that the vision was to see the Commission work in conjunction with the City of Kingston and Loyalist Township to come up with an equation that would best suit the municipalities, taxi drivers, and ride share companies.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel here, we just want fairness within the industry so that the taxi people and the ride share people are following the same set of rules. The taxi individuals pay a lot of taxes, they pay fees, they pay maintenance, they pay a variety of things that are currently not being shared by the ride share community,” Allan expressed.

Councillor Simon Chapelle asked what other jurisdictions are doing across the province. Allan explained that the only city with a comparable set up to Kingston (with a taxi commission overseeing the operations of taxis and/or ride shares) is North Bay. He also explained that a majority of municipalities where ride share companies are operating, such as Ottawa and Toronto, have already enacted bylaws to regulate those operations.

Later, as the CAO’s report and recommendation came before Council, Neill again took the opportunity to speak, explaining a bit about the history of regulating ride share issues here in Kingston.

“I’m totally supporting this because, for those of us that have been on Council a few more years, there have been occasions when we’ve received hundreds and hundreds of emails from every Uber driver from across Canada, trying to convince the City overrule the Taxi Commission on certain issues,” Neill said, noting that he believes having the Taxi Commission involved in the creation of the regulations makes sense, as it would ensure ride share drivers have a number of the checks and balances that taxi drivers do, such as police background checks, proper insurance checks, and “a level playing field.”

“And yes, ride shares have become the way of the world these days, but we should make sure that that our citizens are as well protected if they take an Uber drive as they would be if they took a taxi ride. So, I will be supporting this. And hopefully we’ll get that level playing field,” he said.

Councillor Peter Stroud expressed that he would be “reluctantly supporting” the recommendation, noting that the reluctance comes from his belief the provincial government should be the one regulating ride share companies, and that they may, in fact, come up with such legislation, which would make any work the Commission, City and Township take on moot. He did speak in support of taxis and ride share companies as a means of lowering the number of cars used. He said that most vehicles sit idle 96 per cent of the time, and therefore are unnecessary if people can access taxis and ride shares.

Stroud also wanted to ensure that asking City Staff to take on the creation of these regulations would not interrupt any other work Staff are currently undertaking. He was assured that the work on behalf of the City would only see the use of the CAO’s office and City solicitors, and not affect other work already taking place.

Chapelle pointed to a letter from Uber that was included with the report, which indicated a willingness to work with the City regarding regulations. He asked Staff if they would follow up with the letter writer, and was assured that would happen.

And, with that, the vote was called. City Council voted unanimously in support of the recommendation. The CAO and Acting Director of Legal Services and City Solicitor will represent the City in discussions with the Kingston and Area Taxi Licensing Commission and Loyalist Township, and to undertake industry and community consultations in order to prepare an updated system of draft by-laws and any other related documents regulating the taxi and ride share industries within the joint boundaries of both municipalities and report back to Council for considerations.

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