Is Mississuga Ready for Prime Time?

Their leadership on Uber issue suggests not.

Is Mississuga Ready for Prime Time?

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie wants Mississauga to exit Peel Regional Government and become an independent single-tier municipality. She has a compelling case. Mississauga is Ontario’s third largest city and would join the two largest independent cities: Toronto and Ottawa.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the defining Uber debate, her City Council does not look ready for prime time.

Toronto and Ottawa recently legalized ridesharing services such as Uber. To their credit, Toronto’s Mayor Tory and Ottawa’s Mayor Watson and their respective staff worked closely together to produce a similar set of proposals on how to responsibly regulate ridesharing while unshackling the taxi industry from 1970s era regulation. The Toronto/Ottawa project was a well researched and thoughtful approach that opened more choices for consumers, rewarded customer service and used a light regulatory touch that focused on safety standards such as insurance and criminal background checks of drivers. (Some last minute compromises to secure a deal at Toronto Council meant some backtracking and some outdated regulations were maintained but it was still a significant step forward).

Mississauga has gone off in a completely different direction. In fact, the proposal coming to Mississauga Council on Wednesday will basically ban Uber.

Mississauga’s former mayor, Hazel McCallion, often spoke about  the importance of doing your homework before making a major decision. The current Council didn't even try. They've stacked the deck in favour of entrenched taxi interests and they're not even being subtle about it.

The recommendation to ban Uber comes from Mississauga’s Public Vehicle Advisory Committee (PVAC). PVAC is dominated by the taxi industry with five of eight citizen representatives being directly elected from either the cab or limousine industry. Trying to get the approval of that Committee would be like trying to open a burger restaurant and needing to get permission from McDonalds, Burger King and Harvey’s first.

While Toronto and Ottawa were balanced in getting outside advice on regulating taxis and Uber, Mississauga’s PVAC hired Matt Daus of Windell Marx, a New York City law firm, to act as its consultant. The problem is that Mr Daus has a long history fighting with Uber as the former Chair of New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. He has called Uber and other ridesharing companies “a gang” and a “Silicon Valley cartel in this hostile takeover” of municipal transportation systems. Mr Daus is certainly entitled to his opinion after many bruising battles with Uber, but it is hard to see his advice to Mississauga as objective.

So no surprise that PVAC has recommended that Mississauga Council choose what Daus called the capture option – to turn Uber into  just another run of the mill taxi company effectively banning it.

Uber is popular with Mississauga residents just as it is across Ontario. It counts over 100,000 users and employs 5000 drivers in Mississauga alone. A recent poll of Mississauga residents by Nanos Research commissioned by Uber found that 7 of 10 preferred the very same model that Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton have incorporated. Only 28 percent supported PVAC’s capture model.

Councillor Carolyn Parrish, one of two City Councillors on PVAC, seems dramatically out of step with a growing North American consensus to regulate ridesharing as well as public opinion in the city. Parrish has called for the City to hire 50 new staff to lurk outside of bars at night to try to catch Uber drivers and to invest taxpayer funds to find a technology solution she called a “super sleuth” to somehow block Uber’s signals within the city limits. Perhaps a tinfoil hat would do the trick.

Sophisticated municipalities don't act this way. They don't seek objective advice from a known critic. They don't ask competitors to be gatekeepers for a new entrant into the marketplace.

At least Mayor Bonnie Crombie and others like Ward 2 Councillor Karen Ras are exercising better judgement. Mayor Crombie has sensibly suggested Council and staff look closely at Toronto and Ottawa’s solutions. She has also pointed out the absurdity for consumers getting into a legal Uber vehicle in Toronto only to find it illegal once they cross the street into neighbouring Mississauga.

If Mississauga Council truly believes it is ready to take the path to being an independent municipality, they need to demonstrate the maturity of leadership to do their homework and act responsibly. Hopefully they follow Mayor Crombie’s lead.

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