Toronto city council will ask its staff to pause immediately the issuing of new ride-hailing drivers' licences until a mandatory driver training program is in place to make the service safer.
Council voted 20 to 3 Wednesday in favour of a motion to request that Carleton Grant, executive director of municipal, licensing and standards, stop the issuing of new vehicle-for-hire and private transportation company drivers' licences temporarily.
The issuing will resume once a driver training accreditation program is established and applicants have completed a driver training course.
Mayor John Tory, who supported the motion put forward by Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, said it was a question of safety. He noted that council first approved the idea of such a program more than two years ago. Councillors made that move in response to a fatal accident involving an Uber driver in 2018. However, the pandemic delayed its implementation.
"I'm not going to make excuses for anybody here today, including our officials," Tory said.
"I said yesterday ... they do an excellent job and they have done an excellent job during the pandemic. But two and a half years to come forward with a training program that's still not in front of us is not acceptable. It's just not acceptable."
Tory said he thinks the motion will send a clear message that a driver training program is important.
Wong-Tam said Toronto residents should have peace of mind when they get into Uber or Lyft vehicles. Thousands of ride-hailing drivers on Toronto streets, however, have not been trained, she said.
"How are we keeping the public safe?" she asked.
Wong-Tam said the motion asks municipal, licensing and standards staff members to do their jobs, which is to "enhance the quality of life in the city of Toronto by ensuring public safety, community integrity, consumer protection and responsible business practices." She said city council has to be held responsible.
Coun. Michael Ford, for his part, said he supported the motion because it's the right approach and it's about putting a policy in place that council has wanted for some time.
"I think this is something that council has to send a message and say: 'Look, we want this done. It should be done,'" Ford said.
The motion comes after Grant told council that the city issued a request for proposals from vendors for a ride-share driver training program on Tuesday. That procurement process will close on Dec. 10.
Uber 'disappointed' by decision
In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Uber said the decision punishes drivers.
"Uber fully supports the Driver Training Accreditation program. And, over the past year and a half, we've actively urged the City to accelerate its implementation," the spokesperson said.
"So while we are heartened to see the program finally start to take shape, we are disappointed by the Council's decision to pause licensing in the interim," the spokesperson continued.
"It is deeply unfair to punish the thousands of drivers who want to earn a living and the hundreds of thousands of Torontonians who require a reliable rideshare service to help them get from point A to point B because of the City's slow action."
For its part, Lyft said in a statement: "Drivers go through rigorous safety screenings prior to being approved to drive on the Lyft platform, and we are supportive of Toronto's efforts to improve public safety.
"However, it's important that we do so in a way that doesn't jeopardize earning opportunities for people at a time when many are still recovering from the economic devastation of COVID-19. We look forward to collaborating with the city in order to achieve our shared goals."
In July 2019, council adopted new mandatory training requirements for vehicle-for-hire drivers, such as taxicabs and limousines, and private transportation company drivers, such as Uber and Lyft, following the death of Nicholas Cameron on March 21, 2018. The training requirements, however, were never implemented because of pandemic demands.
Cameron, 28, hired an Uber driver to take him to the airport. The driver pulled onto the left shoulder of the Gardiner Expressway to pick up his cell phone from the floor of the car before merging back into traffic, and the car was hit from behind by a vehicle driving at full speed — breaking Cameron's neck.
Cameron died the following day. Three other occupants of the two vehicles were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The Uber driver, Abdihared Bishar-Mussa from Ottawa, was sentenced to two years' probation, a one year driving suspension, and 50 hours of community service. He was also fined $1,000 and ordered to undergo driver retraining.
Under a bylaw passed by council, the executive director of municipal licensing and standards was required to establish a driver training program, and from June 1, 2020, was required to have all drivers complete the training course. But the pandemic scuttled those plans.
"As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the re-direction of Municipal Licensing and Standards resources to pandemic-related initiatives, the implementation of the driver training program has been delayed," a council document reads.