WATCH ABOVE: As UberPOOL officially launches, Global’s Cindy Pom tests it out by carpooling with a stranger.
TORONTO – Toronto city councillor Jim Karygiannis, a vocal opponent of Uber, is warning Pan Am Games visitors not to use the popular ride-hailing service or risk a fine of up to $20,000.
“UberX drivers are unlicensed taxis. Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act a person who arranges for a ride in an unlicensed taxi is guilty of an offence with a fine of not less than $300 and not greater than $20,000,” Karygiannis said during a press conference at city hall on Tuesday.
The heated battle between the taxi industry, city officials and Uber comes just days after city council voted to review taxi regulations and begin strict enforcement of bylaws.
WATCH: A Toronto city councillor warns Uber riders can be fined up to $20,000. But Cindy Pom reports on whether penalizing riders is likely to happen.
Uber Canada announced Monday the launch of its latest ride-sharing feature called UberPool for the Pan Am Games which allows passengers to hitch a ride with another user on a similar route.
Uber spokesperson Susie Heath said the Highway Act is written to capture people arranging rides and does not pertain to passengers.
There has also never been an instance of the law being applied to Uber passengers in Ontario, said Heath.
“Councillor Karygiannis’ inaccurate comments this morning are clearly intended to invoke fear and come at a time when Toronto is welcoming the world to our great city,” she said in an email statement.
Two weeks ago, an Ontario judge dismissed an application to halt the ride-hailing service with a ruling that there is “no evidence” the company is operating as a taxi broker or that it breached city bylaws.
WATCH: Karygiannis appeals to Pan Am visitors on Tuesday
Still, Karygiannis maintains the judge’s decision puts passengers at risk.
“I believe Justice Dunphy’s decision took Uber, the company, off the hook, and put UberX passengers and drivers into the frying pan,” he said in a statement.
“The courts, in their wisdom, have now added legal responsibility to passengers. Under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act passengers can be charged.”
Tracey Cook, the city’s executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards, said the city continues to investigate and enforce city bylaws with respect to unlicensed limousines, focusing on all unlicensed drivers who provide private ground transportation services.
As of Tuesday, she said the city is filing 72 charges against 36 UberX drivers — half of whom were before the council decision and the other half after.
Cook says the charges being filed are for failure to submit a vehicle for approval by Municipal Licensing and Standards and a lack of a licence for a limousine owner.
The set fine amount for these offences are $300 and $500, respectively, plus a victim surcharge, while the Provincial Offences Act maximum fine is $5,000.
Following city council’s decision to enforce its bylaws, Uber Canada sent an email out to its drivers advising them the company will pay for their tickets.
“We don’t believe that the burden of enforcement of outdated regulations should fall on individual drivers,” Heath said in a statement to Global News last Friday.
When asked about enforcement laws, Toronto police declined to comment on the Uber debate only to say that they “don’t get involved in political issues.”
Karygiannis said he has received legal advice over the interpretation of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act and upholding the law is in the hands of police.
“It’s up to the police in order for them to make sure they take the Act and make sure that they deliver what is under the Act,” he told reporters.
Karygiannis, who has received thousands of dollars in donations from those with ties to the taxi industry, said he was elected to represent his constituents.
“I do have constituents that are drivers of taxi cabs and having listened to them, as well as the industry, I’m representing them,” he said.
“Over the 26 years I was member of Parliament, as well as now, I’ve raised money in order to campaign and to be re-elected and in this case I raised money — clearly stated where the money came from, and it was for my election purposes.”
With files from Adam Miller and Cindy Pom