Image: Victor Avdeev/Unsplash

A new coalition called RideFair Toronto wants the city to set a cap on the number of Uber and Lyft drivers able to operate.

Limiting the number of drivers by imposing a licensing system would help the city meet its environmental, social and economic goals, said coalition organizer Brendan Agnew-Iler at a press conference, Wednesday. 

The press conference served as the official launch of the new coalition, which includes workers, environmental organizations, academic researchers and community groups, among others.

While RideFair has been vocal about its opposition to drivers being classified as independent contractors, worker (mis)classification is not its main focus.

Instead, it sees its work as being complementary to that of the unions that have been organizing gig workers, like the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and United Food and Commercial Workers.

If rideshare drivers had licences with the city, it would also be a way for union organizers to have access to that list of workers, meaning, for the first time, they would be able to know the size and scope of a given bargaining unit.

This has been a challenge for organizers in the past, including for the Foodsters United union drive, and now for the UFCW-led campaign for Toronto’s Uber Black drivers.

The reason UFCW is organizing Toronto Uber Black drivers specifically — rather than the larger group of Uber X drivers — is because the size and scope of an Uber bargaining unit is so difficult to ascertain without Uber’s data.

Uber Black drivers, however, are limousine drivers. To be a limousine driver in the city of Toronto, you need a municipally issued limo license. Union organizers were able to access the list of licensed limo drivers in Toronto and organize their campaign accordingly.

Thorben Wieditz, a coalition organizer, said that if the city of Toronto were to establish a cap on the number of licences that can be issued for Uber drivers, it would give labour organizers much-needed information about who the workers actually are.

Wieditz said this would be a complementary benefit for RideFair’s labour allies, though it has other motivations for imposing a cap on the number of licensed rideshare drivers.

These include reducing vehicle emissions by having fewer cars on the roads, and ensuring the market is not flooded with drivers so the drivers who are licensed can actually earn a living wage.

Earla Phillips, a Lyft and Uber driver who is involved with the coalition, supports the concept of licensing and limiting the number of rideshare drivers in the city.

“A lot of the problems stem from the number of drivers that the city is approving to drive … Not enough work and not making enough money to pay the bills, stems from too many drivers,” she said.

Driving for rideshare companies is Phillips’ full-time job. The fact that driving for rideshare platforms is her primary source of income situates her in contrast to what Uber and Lyft say is their typical worker.

When asked about the issue of the classification of its workers as independent contractors rather than employees, a Lyft spokesperson wrote in an email that 91 per cent of its drivers in Canada drive less than 20 hours a week.

“This includes parents who have busy schedules, retirees, students, or individuals who have another full-time job. They rely on the flexibility rideshare provides … to supplement their income, and what we’ve seen in other markets is that they overwhelmingly do not want to be employees,” the statement — issued in October — read.

Workers’ advocates, including unions, refute that this is actually the case, arguing that more people rely on rideshare and/or food delivery apps for a majority of their income than we know.

Pushing for regulation of rideshare apps is not a novel idea. In fact, it’s what companies like Beck Taxi — a member organization — have been lobbying the city to do ever since companies like Uber first arrived.

RideFair is hoping that its collective voice can find success in regulating the infamous rule flouters.

While new regulations for ridesharing companies were introduced in Toronto in January, the city has so far refused to impose a cap.

The new bylaw does stipulate that all drivers for “private transportation companies” (PTCs) have at least three years’ driving experience and must have completed a city-approved training program. After such requirements are met, the city issues a PTC licence, though licences are issued directly to the companies, not the drivers.

The coalition follows in the footsteps of Fairbnb, a national coalition of homeowners, tenants, tourism businesses and labour organizations that has lobbied for municipal regulation of so-called “ghost hotels” in major Canadian cities, and has seen success in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa.

Chelsea Nash is rabble’s labour beat reporter for 2020. To contact her with story leads, email chelsea[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Victor Avdeev/Unsplash

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Chelsea Nash

Chelsea is rabble.ca’s editor and currently lives in Barrie, Ontario. She began her journalism career covering Parliament Hill as a staff reporter for The Hill Times in...