By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Barrie’s sharing economy, including Uber, is getting a closer look.

City council gave final approval Monday to establish a sharing economy task force and have staff draft regulations relating to Uber, and the ride-sharing business, as part of the on-going Transportation Business Licensing Bylaw review.

“The city is definitely getting ready for Uber and others, and there is no time to waste as these companies are already here and operating,” said Coun. Michael Prowse, chairman of the city’s finance and corporate services committee.

A sharing economy has emerged, and continues emerging, where owners rent out something they’re not using – a car, bike, house or room.

“I would expect Uber will be addressed, but we know it is broader than just Uber; the disruptive technology companies are in every segment of the economy,” Prowse said.

“Disruptive technologies is a term used broadly to identify companies that are, in fact, disrupting the standard business model or status quo of a market – while possibly introducing a whole new market.”

Prowse listed Airbnb, a website to list, find and rent lodging, versus hotels and motels, or Uber vs. the taxi industry, as examples.

Uber is a ride-sharing business which generally offers lower prices than licensed taxis, in part because it does not have the same level of regulation.

The task force would include both city staff and three-to-five knowledgeable local technology leaders. It’s being asked to report to Barrie councillors by the spring of 2017.

The report is to include information on potential economic benefits, improved service or convenience, along with any risks to safety and consumer protection.

It’s to contain options and recommendations on whether the city has a future role in the administration and enforcement of the sharing economy, and what that might look like.

The task force is also to consult with industry stakeholders – local hotel and motel officials, for example – and the insurance industry.

Last February, the Insurance Bureau of Canada approved coverage for drivers using ride-hailing services like Uber, for those carrying paying passengers in their own vehicles.

Municipalities have taken different approaches to Uber.

Mississauga, for example, originally banned Uber. All ride-sharing firms there were to halt operations unless they obtain a taxi brokerage licence, and ran their business like a traditional cab company.

But its council backtracked to allow Uber and other ride sharing companies to operate under a pilot program.

Toronto took the opposite approach, with its council allowing Uber but passing a long list of rules to regulate ride-sharing services.

Earlier this year the city’s two largest cab companies – Barrie Taxi and Deluxe Taxi – said Uber needs the same regulation.

Insurance is a prime concern; every taxi needs to have an endorsement on its insurance policy, a special add-on so passengers can be carried for compensation.

A taxi also needs to have safety inspections and the driver needs to have a criminal check, plus pay for insurance.

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