Undercover police sting snags Uber drivers

Published: April 6, 2015

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Callum Micucci

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Toronto police have charged 11 UberX drivers for operating a taxi without a license and commercial insurance, the Toronto Star reports.

Dubbed “Operation Snowball,” the charges comes alongside the court battle between the city and Uber over whether Uber is compliant with city bylaws requiring licenses for taxis and commercial insurance policies.

In late November 2014, the city of Toronto filed an injunction against Uber, claiming it has been operating as an unlicensed taxi brokerage; however, Uber’s standard defense is that it’s merely a technology company, and it therefore shouldn’t have to conform to licensing or regulatory standards.

The problem is that traditional cabs pay about $10,000 a year for their permit and commercial insurance, whereas the Uber drivers pay nothing more than their personal insurance policy.

More recently, over a three-day period at the beginning of March, an undercover officer at a Tim Horton’s in the west end would order an Uber car and have them drive to another location, where the drivers were ticketed by uniformed officers.

The offenses are not criminal, but instead fall under the Highway Traffic Act. The fines range from $800 to $22,500.

Under the Highway Traffic Act, section 2 3.1, “Every person carrying goods for any other person for compensation shall obtain and carry the insurance that is required by the regulations and shall ensure that the evidence of the insurance is carried in every commercial motor vehicle of the operator that is being used to transport goods for compensation.”

Gerald Chan, a partner in with the high-profile defense firm of Ruby, Shiller, Chan, Hasan, has been hired to defend the group of Uber drivers, and he wouldn’t tell the Star whether Uber had hired him to defend the group. However, Uber did tell the Star that “in general, Uber fully supports its drivers in ‘instances of enforcement.’”

Despite the frequent hurdles, Uber has continued to fight to keep its operation alive across Canada, despite having to close shop in Vancouver and Calgary due to backlash from the cities.

Recently, American insurance company Geico announced it would provide a specialized insurance product in Virginia that adapts to the needs of rideshare company drivers, like Uber and Lyft.

Canadian cities and insurance companies would do well to follow suit. Toronto has a relatively small number of cabs (18 cabs per 10,000 people) compared to other large cities like Washington, D.C. and New York, NY (116 per 10,000 and 63 per 10,000 respectively).