When Uber arrived in town this past July, whether intentional or unintentional, they debuted in a regulatory sweet spot; the Guelph Police Service, who is in charge of overseeing taxis and taxi licensing in Guelph, has no Police Board meeting in August. But it's back to work now for the board, and the main topic of conversation at the meeting Thursday was Uber, and one Royal City taxi company went on the record to say it is not a fan.
Jesse Mendoza, Secretary/Treasurer Canadian Cab came to the Board meeting to speak on behalf of his organization and how the city should respond to Uber setting up shop in Guelph. Many cities in Canada and the United States are struggling with where the ride-sharing service fits into the grand scheme of the local transit strategy, but while Mendoza and Canadian Cab are hardly welcoming Uber with open arms, their reaction does seem more tempered than others.
"There's always been pirate taxis in a university town, but there's a name for them now," Mendoza explained. "We’re all adults, we all know they're illegal, but the basic argument is that Uber is here to stay. Uber is facilitating the commission of illegal acts."
Mendoza said that it's been almost two years since he requested a bylaw review of taxi licensing. He explained that the rules are being broken by Uber, recruiting people to turn their personal vehicles into taxis, and he wondered if they should be official integrated into the system as part of a bylaw review. "I wonder if it's really wise to alter our bylaws for people that have shown a propensity for not obeying them in the beginning," he said.
The primary issue, according to Mendoza, isn't the technological shift or competition, it's matter of safety. Having a "bricks and mortar" office, proper insurance, servicing the cars twice a year, and other certifications are all important factors in knowing the service your using is safe, he said. On top of it all, "We’re the eyes and ears out there," Mendoza told the board. Guelph Police know they can go to the Canadian Cab office to help track down missing persons, or friends looking for a wayward and drunk associate on a Saturday night. "You can’t do that with these Uber guys," he added.
Mendoza didn't want to comment on the degree to which Guelph Police should pursue legal action against Uber drivers, "You haven't seen us in the newspaper bustin' your chops," he said. "I don't want to point fingers and threaten lawsuits. I think we can all agree that we want to work for the public good."
The big part to that public good is safety, Mendoza added. "The job of governing bodies is to ensure the safe delivery of goods and services to the people." At the same time, he said, we know that Guelph-based cab companies are working with Guelph's best interests in mind. "If we live and work in Guelph we have a vested interest in making Guelph happen," and according to Mendoza, a lot of Uber drivers he talked to don’t live in Guelph.
"In 42 years of driving a taxi there are many times I've given free rides to someone that was inebriated," Mendoza added. "I don’t know if Uber would do this."
Guelph Police Chief Jeffrey DeRuyter responded to Mendoza's presentation saying, "We’ve had a good relationship with cab companies and enforcement is a challenge." He added that the police has been looking at how to respond to Uber for several months now, but they're unlikely to reach consensus in the immediate future. He said that the community will have to stay tuned.