Just hours after Toronto averted a cab strike of Kobe Bryant-sized proportions, a top Uber Canada executive said the company actually welcomes calls to regulate ride sharing.
Following a panel discussion at Ryerson University’s DMZ startup incubator on Wednesday, Uber Canada’s Chris Schafer said the firm has no problem with calls for government regulation of ride-sharing and other sectors of the sharing economy.
“We are regulated quite successfully in more than 70 jurisdictions in the United States, both at the state and/or city level. There is a model on how to do this,” said Schafer, policy lead at Uber Canada.
Schafer made his comments just three hours after a group of Toronto taxi drivers called off plans to protest UberX (Uber’s service that uses drivers without taxi licences) by blocking streets starting on Friday. It means the city won’t come to a standstill while Bryant plays there in his last ever National Basketball Association All-Star game.
While local taxis will keep running in Toronto this weekend, the issue of regulating Uber and other ride-sharing services has stalled there. City officials plan to unveil proposed new regulations in April that will go to a council vote in May. But as the narrowly averted strike illustrates, cabbies in Toronto – and other cities around the world – remain angry that Uber continues to operate without facing the same licencing, insurance, and fare requirements as taxis.
Rather than asking to be exempt from regulation, Schafer said, Uber believes that by updating rules, cities can even the playing field for traditional and emerging service providers and create new opportunities in the sharing economy.
“If we accept the reality that technology and innovation are going to continue to happen and be a benefit to society, what can we do with the current regulatory framework?” Schafer said. “And what can we do with those regulations to allow those incumbent industries to better compete in the 21st century while at the same time accepting that we need to embrace change as well?”
Edmonton goes first
Schafer suggested regulatory progress might move quicker in Canada once Edmonton’s new ride sharing bylaw takes effect on March 1. Under the bylaw – Canada’s first – Uber drivers must have a criminal background check, provincially approved insurance, an annual vehicle inspection and charge a base fare of $3.25. They are not allowed to stop at taxi stands or pick up fares hailed on the street.
Schafer’s fellow panelist Grant Brigden told the roundtable audience that although Canada’s peer-to-peer startups have faced “some speed bumps with the regulatory issues,” most cities today are at least open to having some sort of a dialogue.
“Now there’s not just a knee-jerk reaction of ‘You can’t do that’,” said Brigden, founder of Rover. The firm’s app matches Toronto drivers seeking parking spaces with local homeowners who are looking to rent out their driveways or other spots. City officials told the Toronto Star last July that homes renting out multiple parking spots via Rover could constitute illegal commercial parking lots.
To head off those sorts of run-ins, Schafer said P2P startups should get involved in political or regulatory agencies that make laws affecting their particular sector.
“It’s always good to have a seat at the table,” he said.
Another panelist, Progressive Conservative MPP Tim Hudak, introduced a private member’s bill in the Ontario Legislature last fall. The bill, which aims to boost the P2P economy by regulating such activities provincially instead of municipally, has passed second reading but still faces a legislative committee review and public hearings.
“Get out of the way”
“Government should either get out of the way or help make the change that consumers are demanding,” Hudak said.
A report released last year by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce urged the provincial government to work with traditional and P2P providers to develop rules around insurance, workplace safety, and taxation for sharing economy businesses. It also called on Ottawa to establish a federal tax framework for P2P activities.
A 2015 Leger survey showed two-thirds of Ontarians believe P2P is good for the province’s overall economic health. A 2014 study by PwC predicted global revenue from the sharing economy would jump from $15 billion in 2015 to $335 billion by 2025.