The freeze on new ridesharing licences couldn’t come at a worse time

Last week Toronto city council suspended the issuance of all new ridesharing licences until the city approves and rolls out a driver safety program. This suspension, which will significantly limit supply, does nothing for consumer safety but does run the risk of jeopardizing public safety.

The motion, pushed by councillors who have opposed ridesharing access at almost every turn, addresses a problem that is the council’s own creation. Almost 18 months ago, the city decided it would move forward with a rideshare-driver training program, but then sat on its hands and never approved a vendor. (In Toronto, transactions that don’t require government sign-off are getting rarer and rarer.) And now, Catch-22, Council has decided to suspend new permits because drivers haven’t taken the safety course. Whose fault is it that the city approved a training program without any plan for implementing it? Not drivers’ fault and certainly not consumers’ fault.

The freeze on new ridesharing licences couldn’t come at a worse time — just as the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) announces it is reducing service routes due to staff shortages, mostly because it can’t persuade its employees to get vaccinated. Now, with driver shortages looming in the ride-share industry, consumers can expect to face higher prices and longer than usual wait times.

Restricted ridesharing combined with disrupted public transit is a recipe for increases in drunk driving and motor vehicle collisions, as the academic literature on ridesharing’s effect on impaired driving shows. In Houston, for example, researchers at the University of Texas concluded that “rideshare volume had a significant negative correlation with the incidence of motor vehicle-associated trauma, and this was most evident in those younger than 30 years.” Analyzing 24 million Uber rides, they found that access to ridesharing reduced motor vehicle collisions by 23.8 per cent — a remarkable reduction that should be celebrated from a public safety perspective.

Economist Jessica Lynn Peck found that in New York City the introduction of ridesharing services reduced motor vehicle collisions involving impairment by 25-35 per cent, with the highest reduction taking place in densely packed Manhattan. This well-established negative correlation presumably is why Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada (MADD) issued a statement in opposition to the City’s motion: “MADD Canada fully supports the implementation of the mandatory training program, but believes the decision to halt rideshare drivers’ licences until that program is in place will have a negative impact on Torontonians.”

Other research finds that ridesharing “leads to a significant decline in arrests for both physical and sexual assault.” This is likely why 81 per cent of femaleriders say that safety is their primary motivation in using ridesharing, which allows digital tracking of the driver and sharing one’s route with a family member or friend in real time. Restricting access to ridesharing will tend to push women to less safe alternatives.

As Ontario continues to open up from the pandemic, Toronto’s city council is putting public safety at risk and doing so, ironically under the banner of consumer safety. More and more Ontarians are going out to restaurants, bars, clubs, and that will only intensify as the holidays approach. From a consumer and public safety perspective, increasing the options available to consumers for travel is the right policy direction. Unfortunately, city councillors don’t see it that way, and Torontonians will be worse off because of it — some of them worse off in the worst possible way.

Originally published here



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