The San Francisco-based company’s Toronto general manager, Ian Black, told the Star that Uber decided to cover Canada’s sixth-largest city because Mississaugans are “chronically underserved” by current transportation options.
“Poor quality and slow-pick up are facts of life right now in the taxi industry,” he said. “We wanted to help improve the rider experience in Mississauga and help drivers in Mississauga earn more money.”
He declined to say how many Mississauga drivers have signed up over the past few weeks, citing company policy, but said interest has remained high and that some drivers are independent, while others work for established taxi brokerages.
In Toronto, where Uber launched two and a half years ago, Black said more than 1,000 drivers take calls from the app.
Uber is not licenced in either Mississauga or Toronto, as it is a technology company and not a traditional taxi brokerage, and therefore current municipal taxi licencing rules should not apply, said Black.
But Toronto disagrees, having slapped Uber with dozens of bylaw infraction charges, which Uber has challenged. The company has its first provincial court appearance on Aug. 11 to set a trial date.
A City of Mississauga spokeswoman said that a taxi brokerage must be licenced with the city, or it will face bylaw infraction charges.
Black said Uber has reached out to Mississauga, and that ongoing discussions with the City of Toronto over finding a long-term solution have been “very productive.”
“It would be great for the regulations in Toronto, Ontario and across Canada to take into account updated technology and new models of business,” he said.
Rival taxi dispatch apps have sought municipal licences, such as Hailo, which is available in 17 cities including Toronto and claims it can get customers a taxi within four minutes, 95 per cent of the time.
Uber Technologies has shaken up the taxi industry around the world. European cab drivers blocked tourist areas in June to protest Uber’s growing presence in the business, accusing the company of using unlicenced drivers who don’t have to pay sometimes high licencing fees, and further protests hit the streets of Barcelona on Tuesday.
Similar concerns were expressed by Mississauga cab companies this week following Uber’s launch. Mark Sexsmith, sales manager at All Star Taxi, said drivers were especially worried that Uber will erode customer protection.
Uber “is operating outside the legal framework,” he said. “When a customer calls up Uber in Mississauga, they’ve got no assurances that the car that shows is going to have a Mississauga-licenced vehicle or licenced driver with the correct insurance.”
Sexmith said All Star, which has a fleet of 155 cars, was less worried about Uber eating into its business, as it has many corporate clients and taxi stands at nearly every hotel in Mississauga. He disputed Black’s assertion that Mississauga residents are poorly served by current taxi options.
Black said the taxi industry is spreading misinformation about Uber, saying that all drivers who sign up are licenced cab drivers, including those who pick up and drop people off at Pearson Airport.
Founded in 2009, the company was valued at $17 billion (U.S.) last month. Its capital has come from such deep-pocket investors as Google Ventures, BlackRock and Summit Partners.