“Convenience. Safety. Accountability.” These are but a few of the adjectives Uber supporters used to describe the scrappy, oft-controversial transportation startup.
Earlier today, Uber held a rally in Toronto to gain support for its UberX ride-sharing service. Uber’s entry into the market has drawn the ire of taxi cab companies and City Hall alike, as well as the vocal support of riders looking for a cost-effective alternative to Toronto’s taxis, which have often been described as expensive, lacking in accountability, and rife with safety concerns.
“We can make common sense regulations.”
Nathan Phillips Square was the scene for the gathering of 100+ Uber supporters, organized in a semi-circle, chanting “Make Uber here to stay! Don’t let it go away!” and other various pro-Uber statements.
“It’s really important what we’re doing today, that we’re standing up for ride-sharing in Toronto and making our voices heard at City Council,” said Ian Black, Uber Toronto’s General Manager to the enthusiastic crowd. “I’m sure you know it’s an important time for us at Uber. We risk the city taking Uber away from us; we can’t let that happen. We can’t let Uber be taken away from the city, because there’s too many people who work on the Uber platform and deserve to have jobs in the city.”
Mayor Tory has been a vocal supporter of Uber since taking office, and in a recent speech at the Toronto Board of Trade, called on city council to address the issues between taxi companies and Uber, saying that he “will not have this city stuck in the 1970s.” Tory’s support of Uber has caused discord between his administration and the city of Toronto’s Municipal Licensing & Standards division, who argued that Uber is running an unlicensed business and is putting their customers at risk. The city of Toronto is seeking a court injunction preventing Uber from operating in Toronto. A hearing has been set for May 19th.
Amid loud cheers, Black made this offer: “I just have a simple pitch to the city, and hopefully we can send this message to city councillors: Uber and all of us here want to sit down with the city. We think there’s a way to create regulation that makes space for traditional taxis and limos, but also makes space for ride sharing… These regulations exist in other cities, there’s no reasons we can’t bring them here to Toronto. We can make common sense regulations. We need city council to put ridesharing on the agenda and say they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work and we’ll be there to support them.”
BetaKit spoke with supporters of Uber to find out why they attended. Daniel, who recently moved to Toronto from the UK, supports the company because “it’s just so easy. You don’t have to hand out cash. I’m not a cash carrier, so I just love the fact that I jump in and get out and don’t have to worry about tipping.”
“We want to be part of a regulated system and we want to work with the city on sensible regulation.”
Safety concerns didn’t faze the Uber riders on hand, despite the allegations of assault or rape that have dogged Uber in the US and abroad. “I’d probably be more worried about walking around a dark alley somewhere than using a cab,” Daniel said. This was a common sentiment among other participants at today’s rally, who stated that the safety issues wouldn’t deter them from using the service.
There also wasn’t much love for Toronto’s taxi industry to be found at the event. Andrew, a 21-year-old college student said, “we have a very crony taxi industry. Once Uber came in, they showed that they could provide Toronto with a service at an affordable price… With Uber, you’re able to hold them accountable. With taxi drivers and taxi companies, I’ve had a difficult time with complaints and nothing being done.”
Ultimately, today’s rally participants had one thing to say about the dispute between the city and Uber: “Leave them alone and let them do their thing.”
Black says Uber is confident ride-sharing will be on the agenda. “There’s hundreds of people here today, and thousands of people in the city of Toronto who are saying they want ride-sharing on the agenda,” Black said. “So, we think city councillors will listen to that, and the mayor has shown leadership. Now, we’re looking for at least other city councillors to step forward and show leadership.”
Black is also confident that a partnership between all involved can create the right regulations for ride-sharing here in Toronto. “The mayor stepped forward yesterday and said that regulations that are caught in the past need to be updated… We need other councillors to follow that lead because Uber’s here to sit down at the table, talk about sensible regulations and make sure that the thousands of jobs on the Uber platform are protected. We want to be part of a regulated system and we want to work with the city on sensible regulation.”
Kristine Hubbard, Operations Manager at Beck Taxi, was less than enthusiastic. “They have admitted that they’ve been operating illegally in this City for 3 years,” she said. “Yesterday, they also admitted they are a transportation company, that they would apply for a license as a taxi brokerage while making it clear at the same time that they would violate conditions of the license by continuing to dispatch to bandit cabs. The Mayor is right to look at old regulations but to compare moving people around the City safely to “felt hats in steam rooms” is a weak attempt to undermine the importance of safety when talking about taxi service for often vulnerable people.”
Hubbard also doesn’t buy into the innovation concept. “Under the banner of innovation they are in fact turning back the clock to when regulation was introduced in the first place by encouraging people to get into private cars with unlicensed, uninsured drivers. This isn’t about technology; Uber is not technology, it is a company. As you well know, the technology exists and Beck Taxi’s app (for example, launched prior to Uber’s arrival) is filling approximately 5K orders for safe, legal taxi service every day. We also provide access to service for those who don’t have expensive smartphones to the tune of 20K phone calls daily. We will always look to improve on technology but will never compromise on safety.”
We’ve reached out to Uber for comment on today’s rally and we’ll update this article when we’ve heard back.
Will this tactic work? Will Uber be here to stay? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: expect to see more of the public protests we saw today as the popularity of ridesharing technology grows in Toronto.
Disclosure: Justin Kozuch is a former employee of Hailo, a competitor of Uber.