Unlicensed Uber car service facing charges
A smartphone is mounted on the glass of an Uber car in Mumbai, India, April 3, 2014. (AP / Rafiq Maqbool)
Xiaoli Li, CTV Toronto
Published Friday, May 23, 2014 2:32PM EDT
A high-tech car service that allows users to hire drivers through their smartphones is facing a number of charges in provincial court.
Uber operates in Toronto essentially the same way as the city's cabs do, but without a cab licence.
Using the Uber app, users can connect to drivers of cars for hire who are also using the app.
Riders use the cars as they would use a cab and pay Uber directly with a credit card when they reach their destination. Drivers are paid through the company.
Uber has dodged the licencing system, claiming they are just a tech service that connects drivers and passengers. But critics say Uber is operating as cab service, and should have to have a licence.
"They're not offering anything that we don't offer," Kristine Hubbard, operations manager at Beck Taxi, told CTVNews.ca.
Hubbard said the company unfairly ducks the rules governing licensed Toronto taxis.
Licensed drivers have to have proof of work status, criminal background and driving record checks, and CPR registration. Cab brokers have to have everything required of drivers, as well as a provincial franchise agreement, proof of radio licence and list of owners. They also have to be approved by Municipal Licensing and Standards Toronto and they must pay brokerage fees.
"It's an attempt to enter the marketplace, without following the rules," Hubbard said. "We'd like to see what regulators are doing."
City officials appeared to side with Toronto taxi companies.
"Uber does not have a licence to operate in Toronto," Tammy Robbinson, spokesperson for Municipal Licensing and Standards Toronto told CTVNews.ca.
"We have filed 35 charges relating to Uber... this is at the provincial court level," Robbinson said.
Charges include operating without a licence, failure to file a schedule of rates, failure to file a service agreement and charges relating to minimum fares and rates.
The charges were first laid in 2012, but Robbinson said "the court date keeps being pushed back." Robbinson said the next court date is set for June 2014.
Ian Black, general manager of Uber Toronto, said the company should not need a licence because it is a technology company, not a cab service.
"We provide technology that connects riders to the nearest driver," Black told CTVNews.ca. “We're different in the sense in that we're just a technology company connecting those two groups."
Uber entered the Toronto market in 2011, and has never held a licence to operate as a cab brokerage or limo service in the city. Black said that’s because the drivers are independent business owners, who use the Uber app. Uber does not own the cars, and does not employ drivers directly, but signs partnership agreements with them.
Rideshare services like Uber have been banned in several cities in the United States, including Miami and New Orleans. Other cities, including Detroit, Dallas and Chicago have considered introducing regulations to bring unlicensed car services in line with traditional cab companies.
But Black said he's not concerned, noting that "we've had fabulous adoption in the community."
Rival car company Hailo operates using a similar system, but applied for and received a licence to operate as a cab company from the City of Toronto in 2012.
Uber remains without a licence, but Black said "we're very open to finding a solution with the city that lets us serve the City of Toronto."