Barely more than year after it nailed down a bitter debate with a bylaw to regulate the ride-for-hire industry, city hall is bracing for a new round that could reopen issues left smouldering in the last battle.

It’s a renewal of the push-pull battle between taxis and ride-hailing giant Uber, with politicians wading in to take a stab at levelling the playing field.

I would be really surprised if they do anything to our benefit.

Jason Kukurudziak

“This isn’t a London phenomenon, it’s global,” London’s bylaw boss Orest Katolyk said.

“This is not any different than what other cities are going through right now. Toronto, Ottawa, they’re all doing their one-year review after the new bylaw came into effect.”

At issue: pricing, fees, security cameras and the number of licensed cabs on the street.

Taxi drivers argue the entrance of Uber has decimated the industry, taking over the majority of the student market and costing many cabbies their livelihoods.

Numbers collected by city hall show taxis lost out on 700,000 rides in the year after the vehicle-for-hire bylaw was crafted, as more than 3,000 Uber drivers began working legally in London. But it also grew ridership overall, with an extra 1.6-million trips taken in that year.

“I myself am working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, just to make a living,” said Tony Graham, a driver who leases a taxi plate for U-Need-A Cab. “There’s not enough money out there for us anymore.”

He joined other taxi drivers in taking aim at the licences and other fees that must be paid to the city.

Staff recommend axing “redundant fees” for taxi drivers and brokerage firms in a report heading to the community and protective services committee next week.

“If there are rules that are unequal between Uber and the taxi industry — if there’s something more onerous that’s causing them not to be competitive in some way, and it’s unfair — I’d be happy to look at that,” Coun. Phil Squire said.

Security cameras, a sticking point in the initial drawn-out battle over regulating Uber, are one example. Council opted to require cameras in cabs, but not in private vehicles for hire, on the basis that taxis need the security for customers picked up off the street whereas internal checks are already built into the Uber system, which includes rider and driver profiles and ratings.

The next round of debate will focus on whether that camera requirement should be lifted and left up to cab companies to regulate. The same goes for the structure of taxi fares.

“We’re now questioning whether we really need to be involved with some of the regulations,”
Katolyk said. “As long as consumer protection and health and safety are covered, is it necessary to regulate things like fares?”

Jason Kukurudziak, president of the London Taxi Association, is so disillusioned that he doesn’t expect politicians will make any changes to help the industry.

“Is there any silver lining to this dark cloud? I don’t see it,” he said, citing the inequality between Uber and the taxi industry on fees, cameras, bylaw enforcement and driver investment.

“I would be really surprised if they do anything to our benefit.”

Politicians will also be asked to consider changes to a cap that controls the number of cabs in London, a change that angers Graham and Kukurudziak.

With no limit on the number of Uber drivers shuttling customers, the street value of taxi licences is plummeting. Graham said a plate that was once worth as much as $130,000 on the black market has now dropped to $30,000.

This isn’t a London phenomenon, it’s global

London’s bylaw boss Orest Katolyk

“They turn around and say ‘tomorrow, your investment is worth nothing,’” Kukurudziak said of opening the market to Uber.

There’s also a push to remove the cap on accessible cabs in London, limited to one for every 18 taxi licences.

That’s important to provide better service for those who need accessible transportation, staff said, including many of London’s seniors.

City staff are recommending that politicians move to a series of public meetings where residents, Uber drivers, cabbies and taxi owners can weigh in on changes to the still-fresh bylaw that flooded London streets with Uber vehicles.

“There’s no question they’ve disrupted the industry. But they’ve also revolutionized the industry,” Katolyk said.


Fees: Taxi drivers are angry about the long list of fees they have to pay to city hall, including the costs to paint vehicles or switch taxi firms. Staff recommend axing “redundant fees” and “streamlining administration and communications processes.”

Cameras: Council loosened the reins on security camera requirements for Uber, and now politicians will consider allowing taxi companies to follow suit.

Cap: City hall allows one taxi for every 1,100 residents, and one accessible cab for every 18 taxis. But that lid on licences is contentious, and politicians may consider adjusting the ratio or lifting the cap altogether.

Age: Vehicles used to shuttle Londoners must be eight years old or younger. Uber wants the maximum age increased; some taxi companies want it lowered.

Fare: Uber already has surge pricing; City staff suggest there may be no reason to regulate the price of taxi rides, as long as customers know the rate they’ll be paying before they get into the cab.


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