The 37-page bylaw sets out new rules that apply to licensing, vehicle maintenance and age, as well as operating fees charged to what the commission has named “transportation networking companies.”
Victor Guilherm has been an Uber driver in Kingston for the last year and a half, and he believes the bylaw was specifically drafted to discourage companies like Uber from operating in the city.
“It looks like it’s basically made up to drive Uber out of Kingston,” said Guilherm. “I really think [Uber] will leave, this is a small market. … This bylaw is asking quite a few things.”
The bylaw, which is two years in the making, will be enforced Sep. 15. Of many requirements listed in the bylaw, licensing fees are a concern to Guilherm. After mid-September, all drivers will have to apply for an annual paper licence, with registration fees somewhere between $600-$950 yearly, depending when the driver decides to renew. Drivers would also have to foot the bill for police record checks, and all cars would have to be less than seven years old and checked regularly.
According to Guilherm, this will be a big change for Uber drivers in Kingston, who have never had to pay additional fees to start driving.
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Moreover, any transportation networking company like Uber or Lyft must pay a $40,000 startup fee, and a recurring $35,000 annual administration fee.
According to Coun. Liz Schell, one of the two elected officials currently on the board of the Kingston Area Taxi Commission, the extra fees applied to Uber are meant to cover the cost of regulating the increased number of “taxis” in the city.
The enforcement of the new bylaw will be handled by the commission’s current taxi inspector Dave Kennedy, who refused comment for this story.
“That means either he works long hours, or we have to hire someone else — so we needed some money to be able to take over the control of the drivers,” Schell said. She added that police officers would be allowed to issue tickets, but the bulk of the work would land on Kennedy, the commission’s only full-time employee.
As part of the bylaw, companies like Uber will be limited to 50 cars on the road at one time, and a total of 150 registered vehicles in the city. Schell says that since there are already over 200 registered taxis in Kingston, adding 150 more will be impossible for Kennedy to regulate on his own.
As for how the bylaw got passed with so little fanfare, or even approval by Kingston city council, Schell says it’s because of the Kingston Area Taxi Commission’s unique position.
The commission is one of the only of its kind in Ontario and an independent body from the city. Nevertheless, the commission is run by a board of seven locals, two councillors — one from Kingston and one from Loyalist Township — while the rest are citizen appointees.
“We are mandated by the province of Ontario as a commission, as its own entity, and we can create bylaws,” Schell said.
It was originally created to prevent what Schell called “pirate taxis,” cabs that were running unregistered and others who were setting up shop outside of city limits to avoid regulation.
When asked why the bylaw was passed, Schell said it was in the commission’s mandate to know who was driving people around the city, and to regulate those drivers.
“Uber arrived in Kingston and the local taxi companies naturally said, ‘What makes them not pirate taxis?'”
Nevertheless, Schell emphasized that the bylaw wasn’t designed to keep companies like Uber and Lyft out of Kingston, but added that if Uber fails, it won’t be because of the bylaw.
“According to our taxi drivers, Uber isn’t doing well because our own taxi drivers are pretty cheap.”
Schell said that Uber will still be setting their own prices, but soon the commission will be reviewing the fee for service “as their next big job.”
According to Mark Greenwood, owner of Amey’s Taxi, the bylaw is a step in the right direction.
“No one’s completely happy, but the bylaw kind of levelled the playing field,” Greenwood said.
Greenwood said he believes the commission was justified in passing the bylaw, because companies like Uber don’t go through the same rigorous checks taxis do.
“I think the commission is trying to protect the public.”
Uber was contacted for this story, but would not comment because it is still reviewing the bylaw.
As for Guilherm, he says services like Uber are essential to the city, because people from all walks of life now use the service. In the year and half that Guilherm has been driving with Uber, he says he’s driven 4,000 riders, and those were done while working part-time.
“When the students are here it’s a lot busier,” said the Uber driver. “But everybody uses the service.”
For him, the bylaw won’t be restricting his income, since he says he can find other ways to get money. It’s more the principle of the matter.
“It’s the freedom,” Guilherm said. “It’s the freedom to work whenever you want.”