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."