They say there’s an app for everything and, last month, Toronto police used one to bring scofflaws straight to them.
Specifically, the small-scale “Operation Snowball” used ride-share app Uber to attract drivers, take a ride, then charge them with various provincial offences.
Uber’s already gotten a rough ride in many cities — in Canada and abroad — over its opportunistic “surge-pricing,” enigmatic insurance coverage and lack of adequate privacy policies. Some cities, including Hamilton, Ont., have made legal threats but we haven’t yet seen a targeted police blitz like Toronto’s.
The “blitz” was really just the work of one officer who laid charges against 11 UberX drivers who are not licensed taxi drivers, but ordinary motorists performing a taxi service. The 22 charges laid aren’t criminal offences, but violations under the Highway Traffic Act, mostly related to licensing and insurance.
Naturally, cab companies applauded. Beck Taxi has taken a hard line against Uber and Co-op Cabs CEO Peter Zahahos praised police in a statement.
"We are pleased to see that Uber is finally going to have to address questions for its conduct. It is a testament to the fact that they have been operating illegally and placing the public in danger with every trip,” he said.
"As evidenced by these charges laid by the Toronto Police, Uber cannot continue to avoid vital standards of public safety, cost, service and insurance protections."
Those charges could result in fines ranging from $800 to over $22,000.
For its part, Uber isn’t taking this lying down. The company argues its drivers don’t require special taxi licenses because it’s not a taxi service, but rather just a mobile app.
Uber has hired Toronto lawyer Gerald Chan, the partner of high-profile lawyer Clayton Ruby, to represent their drivers. Ruby is also representing an Uber limo driver in an alleged assault case against pop superstar Justin Bieber.
Uber, which has been valued at $40 billion, has also filed complaints against bans in European countries such as Germany and Spain against its mobile taxi-hailing app.
The results of all these lawsuits could have major implications for Uber’s continued presence in Canada.