By: Amy O’Kruk, News Editor | the gazette
Ridesharing drivers beware, amidst local law enforcement crack-downs and mounting fines, the road travelled by London UberX drivers is becoming financially treacherous, and according to some city officials, with no turnaround anytime soon.
Last week, London Police Service launched Project Licensed Ride, an enforcement blitz that catches commercially unlicensed drivers and fines them for violating municipal bylaws. UberX drivers, the on-demand chauffeurs of the app-based ridesharing service, were the first to feel the program’s sting. During a two-day period, 18 of the UberX drivers racked up 29 fines totalling around $500 each.
The problem, according to London’s chief municipal law enforcement officer Orest Katolyk, is that UberX drivers are breaching London’s taxi and limousine licensing bylaw. In order for commercial drivers to lawfully cruise in the Forest City, they must have commercial insurance, a license, conduct a training exam and divulge any criminal record and medical issues. In addition, drivers’ vehicles must be no older than three years and have interior security cameras.
UberX drivers on the other hand, are bound by less severe stipulations. Drivers must use a four door car, but from 2005 to present (in most cities). They also pass a background and driving record check, but can hold personal driving insurance — no commercial insurance necessary.
It’s breaking local bylaws coupled with breaching provincial acts that lands UberX drivers in fiscally hot water, said Katolyk.
“If you get caught with driving an unlicensed vehicle for hire, the city fines can total $2,400 plus victim surcharges,” he said. “[For] provincial fines, it’s a violation of the Highway Traffic Act, and that fine is $300 plus the victim surcharge.”
Katolyk added under the Ontario Insurance Act, the consequences of giving false information or failing to disclose a material fact to the insurance provider can result in a fine of up to $250,000 maximum for a first offense and up to $500,000 for subsequent offenses.
Tickets alone, however, may not be enough to deter many UberX drivers. Gustavo Garcia, a London UberX driver, is confident Uber will support its drivers until Canadian legislature gets with the times and adapts to technological progress.
“In case I get [a ticket] Uber will pay for it, 100 per cent … They have done it before in Toronto,” Garcia said, adding Uber communicated this promise to him at meetings he attended with the technology company.
“They’re working on the regulations in London, I have heard from all over the other cities, they are having problems but they prevail,” he said. “I think the government wants a share of it, so they’re going to try to do anything they can to break it down.”
Many of Garcia’s sentiments are echoed by Uber Canada. The technology company defends its company’s business model as distinct from a taxi brokerage and deserving of new regulations and bylaw adaptions.
Uber announced it will be working with Intact Financial, an auto insurance provider, to develop an insurance plan specifically tailored for ridesharing in Canada.
But it could be a while, regardless of adequate insurance or not, for London legislators to give ridesharing the green light, warned Katolyk.
“[The bylaws] were just revamped two years ago in 2012. We had approximately 15 reports and … bylaws went through two court challenges and the city was successful.”
In the meantime, Katolyk urges the estimated 50,000 returning students — Uber’s target user demographic — to veer away from Uber, and instead download a local taxi company’s app to catch a ride that’s safe and legal.
“Enforcement repercussions on the passengers are nil; however, the personal risk repercussions are quite high,” Katolyk said. “All of our cabs and limousines are licensed. They all have cameras, so should there be an illegal activity in the vehicle, you’re on film — that’s not the case with unlicensed vehicles.”