TORONTO — Hundreds of cab drivers descended on downtown Toronto on Wednesday to protest against the ride-hailing service Uber and call on the city to enforce its bylaws.
The protest, which clogged some major roads for several hours, drew criticism from many citizens and prompted Mayor John Tory to call for an end to “these kinds of dangerous and disruptive activities.”
The city is currently working on new rules to introduce regulations for services like Uber, but cab drivers say current bylaws mean some Uber services are operating illegally.
Uber has raised the ire of the taxi industry, which says its business has dropped with the arrival of the unlicensed and lower-priced competitor.
Wednesday’s protest saw long lines of cabs cause gridlock on key streets and led to at least one angry confrontation between a cab driver and what was believed to be an Uber vehicle.
A number of people also took to Twitter to criticize the protest, with some saying the disturbance it created led them to consider using Uber. Others complained that their commutes had been made tougher by the cabs converging in parts of the city core.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said the protest was not “appropriate behaviour” and would not hasten work on the city’s new regulations.
“I am asking those involved to stop this,” he said. “The point has been made, and we cannot allow our city to have these kinds of dangerous and disruptive activities continue.”
Tory said he was “seized with a sense of urgency on behalf of taxi drivers” to bring in new rules that would regulate Uber, and assured the taxi industry that he asked city staff about their progress on the regulations almost every day.
“To those protesting today, we hear you, we are doing our work,” he said. “Blocking roads and endangering the public and possibly blocking emergency vehicles, putting police officers and citizens and themselves at risk, this is not an acceptable way to go about voicing concerns.”
Tory has said that while Uber is operating outside legislation, it would be impractical to devote the police and bylaw attention necessary to shut it down entirely.
Still, Toronto has joined other cities including Ottawa in issuing fines against Uber drivers.
However, Toronto police chief Mark Saunders says the courts have thrown tickets out because police aren’t able to prove that a transaction took place.
“I’m left with nothing right now because I’m not going to get a successful prosecution … we’ve laid over a hundred charges in the past and they got thrown out,” Saunders said.
“I’m also asking that whoever has put this protest on to have an understanding of the impact that it’s having, and they’re impacting the wrong people — they need to impact the lawmakers, not the average citizen,” he said.
Montreal has also ticketed Uber drivers and in some cases gone further, seizing vehicles.
In Calgary, Uber has suspended its service after a judge approved a temporary injunction against it last week.
Unlike cab fares, Uber’s prices are not regulated by bylaws.
Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said Wednesday that he understood there was “frustration that’s being felt on all sides” when it came to the issue, but noted that the regulation of taxis is the responsibility of municipalities.
“I would ask everyone on the roads to be as calm as possible,” he said. “We will continue to talk to all sides of the industry to see how this might progress.”
A recent report from the federal Competition Bureau recommended that local and provincial governments remove restrictions on the number of taxi licences they grant to drivers.
It also recommended that governments allow people anywhere to hail rides from the curb and allow taxes to offer surge pricing, which Uber now uses to charge more at times when there is greater demand.
Cities control taxi licensing and the number of taxi permits, and in some areas the value of a so-called taxi plate has reached six digits.
The Competition Bureau report found that the cost of a single taxi plate in Toronto in 2012 was as high as $360,000.
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press
©2015 The Canadian Press