TORONTO, June 1 (Reuters) - Taxi drivers packed a courtroom in Canada’s largest city on Monday as Toronto stated its case that the Uber ride-sharing service should be regulated, as are the traditional cabs with which Uber competes.
Toronto is seeking an injunction to stop Uber from operating unless the San Francisco-based company agrees to comply with Toronto’s demand that all Uber drivers be licensed and that the company itself obtain brokerage licenses to operate its service.
Outside city hall, taxi drivers parked three-deep and beeped their horns, while others moved in a slow procession through downtown, clogging much of the business district.
Akhbar Banijamaat, who left Iran in the 1980s with his family and has driven taxis in Toronto for 17 years, said he was the first driver to turn up for the protest.
“Some people support Uber, the mayor supports Uber,” Banijamaat said. “I don’t mind Uber, I think it’s a beautiful idea, to whoever did it, very nice. But do it legal.”
Despite Toronto’s legal bid to regulate Uber, the city’s mayor, John Tory, has said that he accepts that ride-hailing apps such as Uber’s are part of the contemporary landscape. As mayor-elect last November, Tory said the technological changes that enabled Uber were “here to stay.”
Uber is fighting for legal status, one jurisdiction at a time, as authorities worldwide weigh whether to treat its phone-based app as a taxi brokerage, and Uber drivers argue they should be treated as employees, not independent contractors.
The Toronto taxi-driving protesters say UberX, a budget option in which drivers use their personal vehicles, is a threat to public safety. They held up signs explaining their displeasure or taped them to back windows as they rolled slowly around major intersections.
Uber’s other service uses licensed drivers. But Uber disputes Toronto’s claim - similar to claims that Uber has been facing in other cities around the world - that it is operating as a broker. Uber says it simply provides a technology that allows drivers and passengers to find each other.
While Uber waited for its day in court later this week, the privately held company, which is valued at $40 billion, said the taxi protest was counter-productive.
“Rather than blocking roads and preventing people from getting where they need to be, we’re focused on meeting the needs of Toronto’s riders and drivers, who are all too often left out of the debate,” Uber Canada spokeswoman Susie Heath said in an email.
She said the company wants to help “create a sensible regulatory framework for ridesharing.”
The hearing continues. The case is court file no. CV-14-516288.
Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Leslie Adler