The newly released emails shed light on Uber’s frustration with Toronto’s troubled rollout earlier this year of a mandatory training program for taxi drivers and taxi drivers.
In late 2021, the council stopped issuing new municipal driver’s licenses for hire until training was available, but the launch of the program was delayed as the city struggled for months to attract qualified course providers.
Internal emails from the City of Toronto, obtained by the FOI advocacy group and shared with Star, express Uber’s concerns about being unable to hire new employees during the licensing suspension. They show that the company has lobbied senior city officials and the mayor’s office to end training approval delays that have been occurring amid high driver turnover.
RideFairTO, a group that advocates for stricter regulation of Uber and other taxi services and that shared emails with Star, says the company’s impatience with delays shows how its business model relies on a steady stream of underpaid drivers who quickly cycle out of the industry. . The group says that ever since Uber arrived in Toronto, this business model has led the company to resist any regulations that would prevent it from hiring quickly.
Uber denies these claims. It says its drivers are paid decent wages and the company supports the city’s regulatory regime.
In 2019, the city council mandated training for all taxi drivers and taxi drivers following the death of a 28-year-old Uber rider. The launch of the program was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but last November, the City issued a new call to providers for courses on topics such as safe passenger transportation, serving passengers with disabilities, and combating stalking training. That same month, the council suspended the issuance of licenses to new drivers until training could be provided.
The municipal government had expected to start certifying third-party vendors in January, but emails show that none of the 12 companies that submitted proposals met the city’s standards by March. The result was a months-long shutdown of new workers joining a taxi industry that was losing thousands of drivers.
The number of drivers has dropped by about 50% since the start of the pandemic, from 90,000 to 47,000, according to a November 2021 city report. But even before that drop, the industry was seeing a significant churn.
In an email from City Hall dated November 22, Carlton Grant, the city’s executive director of licensing and standards, said that only about 60 percent of licensed taxi drivers in Toronto had signed up for work during the last month before the pandemic began. , and most of them “traveled sporadically”.
Grant also noted that while Toronto licensed 16,500 taxi drivers five months before the freeze, only 39% of app workers who received a municipal license in 2020 still held one in 2021. driving two years later.
The numbers indicate that “the rate of licensee turnover is quite high,” Grant wrote, explaining the trend as drivers only taking jobs intermittently.
Uber warned that the pause in licensing would result in longer waiting times and higher costs for customers, and as training delays dragged on, the company became frustrated.
In an email to Grant dated March 14, a lobbyist working for the company estimated that nearly 10,000 drivers had been “delayed” before Christmas. The situation became “more and more frankly (incredibly) problematic,” she wrote. – What’s the delay?
Grant pointed his finger at the providers. “We are pushing them, but the content does not meet the requirements of our expert groups,” he replied.
Uber has also put pressure on the mayor and council on the issue. On March 15, a Tory adviser told Grant and another senior employee that Uber had “contacted him numerous times” asking when the programs would be approved. Two weeks later, the same advisor warned that Uber plans to write to all city council members to ask them to “pressure” staff to certify programs.
The City finally approved the first service provider at the end of April and has since added three more. But this does not mean that the training is going according to plan. The city was forced to suspend one of the courses six weeks after it was approved due to complaints about its all-online format.
As of this month, about 10,000 of Toronto’s more than 67,000 licensed drivers have completed the course, which can last eight hours and cost up to $225, according to the city.
While staff initially projected that all new and existing drivers would be trained by the end of 2022, they have yet to release an updated schedule. Grant told the Star the city hopes to approve two or three more courses soon and set a new deadline after that.
RideFairTO spokesman Torben Viditz said Uber’s efforts to end the license suspension show the company depends on a “constant stream of incoming drivers” that it can check in “as quickly and easily as possible.”
App-based service workers “realize very quickly that the money is not enough and leave the platform. Uber relies on very low entry barriers to replace lost drivers,” he said.
He noted that the city used to require taxi drivers to complete a 17-day training program, but canceled it in 2016 after lobbying from Uber. Since adopting a less burdensome learning policy three years ago, staff and board have rejected calls to strengthen it through measures such as compulsory driving lessons.
“Training programs in Toronto have been simplified to meet the needs of the Uber business… at the expense of public safety,” Viditz said.
Uber spokesperson Kirtana Rang denied RideFair’s claims. She said more people have been signing up to work with the company at the GTA since almost every point since the pandemic began, and at the end of June, the average driver in Toronto was making more than $34 an hour of “busy time.”
She said “safety is at the heart of Uber” and she supports measures to keep drivers and the public safe. The company “advocated for a timely rollout” of the training because it is “an important step for drivers to get on the road, open up flexible earnings opportunities, help reduce waiting times and ensure safe and affordable travel for all Torontonians,” she said.
A spokesperson for Tory said that while his office passed on Uber’s concerns to city staff, he was not involved in the approving training process, “other than asking staff for updates on progress.”
Lovin Hadisi said his office has consulted with industry representatives and has his own concerns that the slow approval process was unfair not only to taxi companies but also to taxi firms, who were also banned from hiring new drivers during freezing time, as well as being drivers and customers.
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