Taxi versus Technology: Tensions escalate between Toronto and UberX

On Sunday morning, the newly formed United Taxi Workers Association (UTWA) had announced their intention to pursue a second major strike action in Toronto for the duration of the NBA All-star weekend beginning at rush hour on Friday. A previous protest in December saw cabbies using their vehicles as blockades on major routes into downtown Toronto for hours. The UTWA have been frustrated by the city’s lack of enforcement against UberX and were aiming this particular protest against Mayor John Tory and city officials, who are slowly bringing municipal regulation to UberX.

Uber is a mobile application created by Uber Technologies Inc. and operates as a transportation network company (TNC). Through websites or mobile apps, a TNC connects paying passengers with drivers who use their own personal/non-commercial vehicles. Uber offers hierarchical levels of ride-sharing services: UberTAXI, UberBLACK and UberX. While the former two operate comparatively to traditional taxis and professional ride-hailing services respectively, UberX has garnered the most criticism. UberX drivers are seen as “illegal taxis”, given that they are not subjected to the same level of regulation, overhead costs and oversight that cabbies must operate under.  

The tensions between Taxi drivers and UberX have been escalating since the company began operating in Toronto in 2012. This past December, as many as 2,000 taxi drivers participated in a major protest and showed that they were not swayed by the mayor’s pleas to abandon dangerous and disruptive actions. The protest not only resulted in great inconvenience to the drivers and public transit, but cabbies went so far as to impede emergency vehicles and ambulances, posing a serious risk to human life. Video footage also captured a taxi driver identifying a nearby UberX car, using the mobile phone application, and then proceeding to bang on the car windows and attempt to break into the car. This spurred the UberX driver to drive away with the determined taxi driver still hanging on to the car and be dragged about 20-metres in distance.  This incident highlights the personal safety risks to UberX drivers who may find themselves targeted, as well as taxi drivers who put themselves in dangerous situations in order to prove a point.

While Mayor John Tory recognizes the unfair nature of the current situation for cabbies, he warned that the threat of protest and traffic-disruptions to the city during this high-profile event would not bring about new actions and the drafting of rules to regulate Uber any faster. He also warned that protesters may face police enforcement in efforts to keep the roads clear. On Wednesday afternoon Sam Moini, spokesperson of the UTWA, announced that despite having permits the strike would be cancelled but may still occur at a future date. Sajid Mughal of iTaxiworkers was in agreement stating: “The public is our bread and butter. The public didn’t want this disruption and we listened.” With the December protest as a precedent, any future protests will likely affect thousands with the effects mainly felt within the downtown core. These protests have the potential to be volatile and escalate.

 

-Alvina T

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