Kingston Area Taxi Commission inches closer towards Uber regulation

Controversial bylaw has been in the works since 2015

KATC commissioners continued to debate the controversial bylaw No. 4 at this week's meeting.

The Kingston Area Taxi Commission met Wednesday at City Hall to continue the drafting process of a controversial bylaw that would regulate Uber’s operations in Kingston. The bylaw has been in the works since 2015 when Uber first came to the city. 

According to commissioners, the bylaw seeks to “create a level playing field” between the rules that govern taxis and Uber. 

After the final meeting of 2017, the draft bylaw was posted publically on the Kingston Area Taxi Commission website. The release marks the first time the draft legislation has been available to the public.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first to see returning commissioner Karen Wisebaum in her newly-elected position of KATC Chair. Mark Greenwood, owner of Amey’s Taxi, along with other industry representatives, attended the meeting. Also in attendance was Chris Schafer, Uber Canada’s public policy manager.

Among the issues discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, driver tests and authentication for Transportation Networking Companies (TNCs) like Uber were the most debated between commissioners and industry members.

Testing drivers 

One of the most controversial provisions in the draft bylaw is the requirement for prospective Uber drivers to complete a test about their knowledge of the city, something that’s already required of taxi drivers.

At Wednesday’s meeting, new and returning commissioners raised questions about driver testing and how to achieve consistency with bylaw No. 2, which regulates taxis in Kingston. 

KATC Commissioner Craig Draeger said, “I question to some degree what the need for such a test would be because the whole concept of the business model is a designated pick-up point and the GPS guides you to the designated drop-off point. I don’t know what is gained from having a written test of knowledge of the township or the city.”

KATC Taxi Inspector and Enforcement Officer Dave Kennedy responded and said, “it has to come down to whether the commission is going to require it or not. If this gets passed, we will have to look at bylaw No. 2 to see what we have there.”

“Right now, we test [taxi] drivers, if we’re not going to test the Uber people, then are we going to keep testing the taxi drivers? If we’re going to ease what the TNC has to do, we have to ease what the taxis will have to do,” Kennedy explained.

Commissioner Draeger said he would “agree with that harmonization.” Commissioners will continue to debate the issue at next month’s meeting.

Authenticating drivers 

Another area of the bylaw that commissioners are struggling to make consistent is the authentication of drivers on the road. 

For taxis, the commission is able to request ID from drivers at any time. However, for TNCs, identification is done internally through the software application and then distributed to regulators. 

Schafer explained in Ottawa, Uber collects all information about drivers on the road and their status and relays it to regulators “at a cadency of their choosing,” be it weekly, monthly or yearly. “No other city asks for paper identification; it’s redundant,” Schafer said.

Mark Greenwood said in response, “I think it comes down to whether Uber is going to be regulating themselves and rely on them for information or the commission is going to be regulating.”

KATC Chair Wisebaum said “for me the question is still outstanding on how we authenticate and I don’t have an answer.”

Moving forward

Commissioners remain optimistic the bylaw will move forward in the coming months. However, Wisebaum acknowledged it could “take up to six months.”

When asked why the commission doesn’t use other regulatory regimes as a model for Kingston, Wisebaum said, “we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of different reasons that have come up in past meetings over the last two years.”

She explained KATC is “a creature of statute,” adding, “that is not true of a lot of taxi commissions across the province. We are just here to do the job we are mandated to do under statute.”

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