Uber, the controversial ride-sharing company, has launched a carpooling service for the next two weeks but a Toronto city councillor is warning users could face steep fines.
In a statement on Monday, Uber said it was launching a two-week carpooling pilot project that would last until July 26, until the end of the Pan Am Games.
It coincides with the new temporary HOV lanes all across the Greater Toronto Area. For the duration of the Games, certain lanes of the Gardiner Expressway, Don Valley Parkway, and Highway 401 are only accessible to vehicles with three or more people inside, and Uber is looking to exploit that loophole.
“We really see this as something that can help this city. HOV lanes have been nearly empty in this city, and we see this as an opportunity to help increase use of these HOV lanes,” Uber GM Ian Black said.
“Already we’ve had hundreds of requests.”
UberX connects private drivers, who use their own vehicles, with passengers. For the next two weeks, passengers can be matched up with other riders sharing a similar route.
But the legality of the service is under fire.
Toronto Coun. Jim Karygiannis said a section of the Highway Traffic Act prohibits drivers from picking up passengers for a profit without a license, permit, or authorization.
If caught, riders could face fines up to $20,000, Karygiannis said.
The new plan could add to Uber’s legal woes. In Toronto, Uber is already under fire from both the taxi industry and city hall.
The taxi industry argues that UberX is unregulated and its drivers don’t have commercial licences, putting passenger safety in jeopardy while simultaneously driving traditional cabbies out of business.
Last week, city council voted in favour of a crackdown on UberX, asking both police and bylaw officers to issue fines.
To date, 36 UberX drivers are facing a total of 72 charges. Tracey Cook, the city’s executive director of municipal licensing and standards says the charges are for driving without a municipal limousine licence ($500 fine) and failing to submit the vehicles to the city for inspection ($300 fine).
The Provincial Offences Act maximum fine is $5,000, Cook said.
“These investigations are focused on all unlicensed drivers who are providing private ground transportation services,” she told 680 NEWS.
Meanwhile, the city had launched a legal challenge against Uber, arguing the company operated as a taxi broker and breached city bylaw. The legal challenge was dismissed and the city will be reviewing its taxi bylaws in September.