Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Article: Bylaw would idle Uber in Kingston: official

From the Kingston Whig-Standard:

A spokesman for Uber ride-sharing company made a final pitch to the Kingston Area Taxi Commission to drop sections of a proposed bylaw that would restrict the company's business model.

Chris Schafer identified those demands -- a cap on surge pricing, security cameras in vehicles and a requirement to open an office in Kingston -- as issues that would cause the company to shut down operations here.

Currently, it has about 100 drivers registered to work in Kingston.

"My hope is they follow the lead of Toronto and Ottawa and Niagara Region. The point I made was that a number of cities that have looked at the issues of ride sharing, they've gone a way that recognizes ride sharing as a different entity from taxis," said Schafer following a 75-minute grilling by taxi commission members.

"Kingston's task force, largely outnumbered by the taxi interests, recommended a direction that is fundamentally different. That presents challenges for ride sharing in Kingston. I'm hopeful that hasn't fallen on deaf ears."

In January, the taxi commission struck a special task force to look into the effects of Uber on the local taxi business and to determine whether it could be incorporated into the commission bylaws.

The report released in May contained 26 recommendations that, Schafer said, "proposes to make Uber a taxi. It tries to stuff it into the existing way of doing things."

Uber offers app-based ride ordering via smartphones.

Potential customers place their order on their phones, the nearest driver is centrally dispatched and the fare is paid electronically, without cash.

Kingston is not alone in its attempt to recognize Uber and regulate it.

But Schafer told the commissioners repeatedly that Kingston is the only municipality in Canada to make such comprehensive demands.

As it stands, the bylaw once written could also include requirements that Uber cars -- which are owned by the individual drivers -- bear corporate markings and that drivers be subject to local police background checks.

Schafer, who was also the Uber representative on the Kingston task force, explained some of the ways in which Uber operates differently from standard taxi regulation procedures.

He said security cameras and corporate markings are not needed to protect either passengers or drivers because the phone order automatically provides information on both.

The passenger is sent a display with the driver's photo as well as the make of the vehicle and its licence number which he said is superior to having a registration number on the side of the cab.

"How many of us remember the taxi number on the car?" he asked. "With Uber it's on the phone."

The passenger's information, meantime, is recorded through the financial transaction.

Both drivers and passengers can rate the service or treatment they received from the other.

And Schafer said Uber demands third-party reference checks on its drivers in which the company sends in the information to a hired police service that runs checks using the same data base as local police forces.

"Our tolerance is zero tolerance," said Schafer. "If you have a criminal record, you're not going to be an Uber driver."

While the Kingston area commission demands two safety inspections of taxis each year, Uber requires just one.

Schafer said some cities in Ontario are opting for two safety checks if the car surpasses as certain mileage reading, such as 50,000 kilometres.

Schafer fielded a number of questions from taxi commissioner Ric Bresee, the deputy-mayor of Loyalist Township, who asked "Why are you here?"

Schafer said he wanted to "share what the future of the bylaw could look like."

"My goal is to see consumers in Kingston have choice," he said. "There may be some people who don't want citizens to have choice. I'm here to suggest not only can you suggest something new [but] then live happily ever after like in Toronto and Ottawa."

"I'm not that protectionist," Bresee responded, but then went on to say that the supply and demand system of the taxi industry was "the cornerstone of this commission" likening its role to a marketing board.

"A big part of your proposal is eliminating supply-chain management," said Bresee.

Schafer said Uber's new tech-based business model has increased the overall market for both taxis and ride-sharing based on supply and demand.

"We cut prices in Toronto and Ottawa and drivers earned more money. The pie that regulators said was fixed... that pie, there's more of it. Uber has tapped into dormant demand. The pie overall is grown," he said.

"If your goal was to see a future for ride sharing in the City of Kingston, many of the proposals [in the task force report] will ensure no future for ride sharing. Adopt what the task force recommended if that is the goal."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Article: Courtesy crossings to be upgraded

From the Kingston Whig-Standard:

Kingston's two original courtesy pedestrian crossings will be upgraded to crosswalks requiring full vehicle stops this fall.

As of Jan. 1, the Highway Traffic Act was amended to allow the installation of full-stop crossings even where there are no traffic lights or stop signs.

"This is a very clear, black-and-white law," said city traffic manager Deanna Green. "If a pedestrian is standing at the side of the road all vehicles must stop until the pedestrian has fully completed that crossing -- curb to curb."

There are 10 courtesy crossings around Kingston but none currently requires vehicles to stop for pedestrians.

The remaining eight will be replaced over the next two years with pedestrian-activated, flashing amber lights and regulatory pedestrian signs.

The estimated cost is $25,000 per crossing.

The city will first convert the courtesy crossings on King Street near Kingston General Hospital and on Rideau Street at Rideaucrest Home for the Aged.

The courtesy crossings were controversial because there was no legal requirement to give pedestrians the right of way.

"Those courtesy crossings were always an interim measure. And it's not consistent. You won't find them anywhere in North America," said Green. "Not even in Ontario. And they're not recognized in the Highway Traffic Act."

In four years of use, the courtesy crossings only resulted in one accident in which a car was rear-ended after stopping to allow a pedestrian to cross.

"I would say they're working in that we haven't had any incidents but only half of motorists were yielding -- half or less. Motorists didn't stop if they didn't feel like it. And most didn't," said Green.

The new crossings will require vehicles, including bicycles, to stop for pedestrians and even if the crossing light is not activated.

"It is the sign that requires vehicles to stop," she said. "It's still a legal crosswalk without that light being activated."

Green acknowledged there will be a "learning curve" for both pedestrians and motorists.

The city and Kingston Police will team up for a public education effort.

Fines for motorists can range from $150 to $500.

Green said it is incumbent upon pedestrians to signal their intent before walking onto the roadway.

"We're telling pedestrians make sure vehicles have come to a stop before you enter the crosswalk. You should indicate you're about to cross with a hand gesture," she said.

If using the crossing, cyclists must dismount and walk their bikes or else they are considered a vehicle.

Green said some of the initial installation work has begun at the King Street and Rideau Street locations in preparation for the September launch.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Letter to the Kingston Area Taxi Commission

Roy Ambury
Kingston ON

July 12, 2016

John Pyke, Chair
Kingston Area Taxi Commission
1201 Division St., Kingston ON

Dear Mr. Pyke,

You asked for recommendations from the Industry concerning safety measures the Commission should require in vehicles affiliated with Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s).

I propose that all vehicles affiliated with TNC’s be required to have the same safety equipment as taxis. Despite the assertions of the representative for Uber, there is no guarantee that the person who orders a cab or a TNC vehicle will be the same person as the passenger.

I can think of three circumstances in which the person who orders a cab through a company app could be a different person from the passenger:
1.    If the wrong passenger is picked up, especially at a bar;
2.    If “Jane” asks “John” to call her a cab, and the driver expects John to be the passenger; and
3.    If the cell phone is stolen and not locked to prevent the thief from using the app.

In terms of insurance, I feel that TNC operators should be insured for the entire time the TNC app is activated, time between and en route to calls as well as the time while the passenger is in the car. The most recent news I have seen is that Intact Insurance is offering a policy covering the driver of the vehicle while the passenger is in the car, but I see this as being inadequate.

I offer some definitions for inclusion in By-Law No. 4:
•    Transportation Network Company (TNC) shall mean any corporation other than a Taxi Broker which
1.    provides an app to the owners of vehicles for the purpose of being connected to potential passengers for hire; and
2.    provides an app to persons for the purpose of being connected to owners of vehicles for the purpose of becoming passengers for hire
•    Transportation Network Plateholder (TNP) shall mean any vehicle owner who installs and uses the app provided by a TNC for the purpose of finding passengers for hire.

I feel that no TNC plates should be issued until everyone on the waiting list has been issued a plate. As this seems unrealistic, I propose that the number of TNC plates be strictly limited, perhaps to five, subject to review annually in September. Every TNP should be required to inform the Commission whenever he ceases to be affiliated with a TNC, and may only return to that affiliation if the number of TNC plates in use is fewer than five.

Thank you for considering my opinions.


Roy Ambury