Toronto, Canada – A new coalition of environmentalists, transit advocates and drivers has launched a campaign to better regulate ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft in post-pandemic Toronto.
The group, calling itself the Ride Fair Coalition, said in 2021 the City of Toronto needs to tighten the regulations on the service that Toronto Council first put in place in 2016.
Those regulations allow drivers and riders to hook up using phone apps like Uber and Lyft with relatively few restrictions compared to those placed on licensed taxi companies and their drivers.
Organizers of the coalition laid out what they say are some consequences of those changes at the Dec. 9 news conference – consequences they say have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The fact is that when they came to Toronto, Uber and Lyft promised cheap travel around the city and after several years they have had significant impacts,” said Brendan Agnew-Iler, a co-founder of the group. “The coalition has come together so there can be a fair set of rules for everyone and this is especially important as we plan to reopen from this pandemic.”
The group’s website – ridefair.ca – lists a number of organizations in support of these goals, including the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 (which represents Toronto Transit Commission workers), taxi operators Beck Taxi and Co-Op Cabs, and environmental/transportation advocates including the Toronto Environmental Alliance and TTC Riders.
In an interview, Agnew-Iler said the group at this point is mostly volunteer-driven, and is also in the early stages of developing its strategy in pressing the city for greater regulation. Part of the challenge, he said, is the pandemic has made it difficult to amass good information on the impacts of ride-sharing over 2020.
The group’s research does indicate that ride sharing may have poached as much as $102 million in potential transit fares from the TTC in 2019, by drawing riders who would take transit to the less environmentally-friendly ride-sharing service. By comparison, the TTC lost $73 million to fare evasion.
But Agnew-Iler said more work needs to be done.
“We do know the negative impacts aren’t well-known and aren’t well-documented, so we do want to gather comprehensive information… and once we have it, come forward with policy recommendations,” he said.
At the Dec. 9 launch of the group, several speakers did outline the impact of the service from a more anecdotal perspective.
Earla Philips, a driver who has worked with both Uber and Lyft for five and a half years, said the proliferation of more and more drivers in the city over the past few years made it more difficult to make a living – and the impact of the pandemic has added additional pressure.
“Life is absolutely getting harder, and it’s harder for drivers – I’m afraid for drivers who think they can make a living,” she said. “Before the pandemic I used to make four times what I’m making now. Even in 2019 I saw a huge drop in demand … and then came COVID and business took a nose dive. We lost 90 per cent of our business overnight and since then it’s getting worse.”
Satkunanathon Satkunalingam, a licensed taxi driver who has driven for Beck for the past 25 years, said the imbalance in the level of regulation between ride-sharing apps and the licensed taxi industry has made it impossible to compete.
“We are struggling to make money and a lot of drivers have left,” he said. “If it’s a fair fight we can accept this as a business – but it’s not fair.”