The Biking Lawyer: Do you have experience driving in Toronto? How much?
Uber Driver: [This was my] first time driving for Uber in Toronto
The Biking Lawyer: Do you know that Toronto has a lot of cyclists?
Uber Driver: [I] found out that day.
The Biking Lawyer: Do you take extra precaution for cyclists?
Uber Driver: [I do] now.
The Biking Lawyer: Does Uber provide specific training for cyclists?
Uber Driver: Not that I can recall. No notifications for bike safety.
This was a recent exchange between an Uber driver and I at an examination for discovery (evidence given under oath).
The case involved a crash that occurred as a result of this Uber driver dangerously turning left into my cyclist client’s path. My client was seriously injured as a result.
What this exchange is indicative of is the huge number of untrained and inexperienced commercial drivers that have in recent years descended on Toronto. They are employed and incentivized by a massive corporation to drive at all hours, in all conditions, across this city without any training or education on the unique environment they are driving in.**
“Their business model depends on being able to get a precarious workforce in and out as quickly as possible and that doesn’t work if you require that precarious workforce to be well trained in how to operate safely,” - Councillor Gord Perks, Ward 4- Parkdale-High Park
As much as I see some benefit in services like Uber/Lyft, I see mass commercial transport in the hands of untrained drivers as a massive road safety issue. I get cut off or nearly hit as a cyclist by an Uber or Lyft a few times a week.
Today, one as inching into the painted bike lane on Richmond Street without indicating or looking in the mirror to see that I was in the bike lane he was illegally entering. He was so close to me, I had to bang on his car for him to stop from pushing me off the road. I am not exaggerating. I know those who commute by bike in Toronto would express the same or similar stories from the mundane annoyance to harrowing tales of near death.
My friend Steve put it well, ‘with a marked taxi you are aware that there will likely be some sort of erratic behaviour as they search for fares or drop people off. You can anticipate their moves and protect yourself. Ubers are unmarked and swing into a bike lane to drop someone off without warning or even opportunity for your Spidey sense to go off’.
An untrained army has descended onto Toronto's streets creating an unpredictable swarm of cars careening into bike lanes to pick up fare, rather than finding safe parking. All in the name of corporate profits and “efficiencies”.
This comes at our expense. The safety of people on bikes is severely jeopardized by this new phenomenon. At some point, the scale between consumer convenience and the safety of vulnerable road users will tip, right?
My understanding is that the City of Toronto thankfully made changes to the Vehicle-for-Hire Bylaw, which came into force January 1, 2020. Some key changes are mandatory training for all drivers, and an increase in the years of driving experience for all drivers from one to three years
Unfortunately for us bike commuters, these training programs have not eveven been developed yet and Uber drivers do not have to undergo training until the end of the year. New Uber drivers must be trained by June 1, 2020. However, with no training module yet developed/accepted by the City this seems like wishful thinking.
Currently, the City is asking for the new training requirement to improve driver awareness and enhance public safety. Preliminary topics will include:
transporting passengers in a safe manner;
driving in an urban setting; providing accessible service;
diversity and sensitivity; and
This could be a great opportunity for cycling and road safety advocates to ensure our concerns are addressed through training and our safety taken seriously.
I think that Uber, Lyft and the City of Toronto can and should engage with the cycling community to help provide all vehicle for hire drivers with effective safety training. This training must have a cyclist/vulnerable road user component with instruction around the proper navigation of bike lanes. Drivers must be live to the fact they are in a city where year-round you will encounter people on bikes. Training in safety measures, predictive and defensive driving, are but a few areas I think should be part of any training.
This training, whenever it arrives and in whatever shape it comes, is going to be critical to our safety.
For now, I remain incredibly nervous as a bike commuter and lawyer for injured cyclists.
Spring/Summer riding season is fast approaching. Hundreds of people on bikes will be getting back into the saddle and onto the streets of Toronto. Without safety training, we will have to endure another season of severe injuries, near misses, harrowing tales or worse.
** This is in no way an attack on the many people (often young people) working tirelessly, trying to make some income. They are helping people like me. I take Uber. I appreciate sending my mom in an Uber, so that I can track her whereabouts and ensure she gets home safe. But, this service does not come without costs, more appropriately and powerfully outlined here.