January 14, 2016

Uber, the digital economy and upcoming challenges

In the past few years, the global economy has seen the arrival of new enterprises that emerged from the new digital economy. One of these enterprises is the American company Uber, which offers transportation services through its mobile application. Since its arrival in Canada in 2012, Uber has been facing significant challenges with regards to its integration. The taxi lobby has strongly opposed Uber since its arrival, describing it as unfair competition. Quebec Transport Minister, Mr. Robert Poëti, has criticized Uber many times, depicting it as [translation] "illegal transportation".[1] The Bureau du Taxi de Montréal has seized hundreds of vehicles since Uber's arrival in Montreal.[2] Finally, Uber recently created controversy as a result of the exorbitant fees it charged on new year's eve as a result of high demand, charging some users as much as $300 for a ride in Montreal![3]

Aviva insurance company recently announced that it will offer a new insurance policy specifically for ride-sharing drivers using platforms like Uber starting in February 2016. The insurance will first be available in Ontario, but will be offered in other provinces over the course of 2016. This policy will be available to people working a minimum of 20 hours weekly as drivers. Like Aviva, other insurance companies are currently working on their own products for this new market.[4]

This new type of protection directly fills a gap in the insurance coverage of ride-sharing drivers as most of them are insured only through their personal car insurance. These policies do not, however, cover Uber drivers for their waged transportation activities as they usually contain exclusions regarding waged transportation and similar situations. Consequently, this situation raises issues regarding insurance coverage that de facto increases litigation risk between drivers, regulators, passengers and insurance companies.

In Quebec, the Act respecting transportation services by taxi[5] and its related regulation have been in force since 2001 and were obviously not drafted in light of the technological changes currently occurring, just like many other laws across Canada. As a result, many government instances have publicly announced their intention to reform the regulatory framework applicable to the taxi industry to adapt to this new paradigm. It is thus safe to assume that these new policies will then need to be adapted to the new regulatory and legislative context regarding aspects such as mandatory insurance requirements.

It is clear that the services offered by ride-sharing applications form part of a greater phenomenon linked to the new digital economy. As technology becomes increasingly present in our lives, other Uber-like situations are likely to occur: a new enterprise offering a new product in an existing market governed by a regulatory framework that is not adapted to this new reality, inevitably causing friction among the current market players. It is also clear, however, that this new digital economy is here to stay and that such new business opportunities will continue to arise, regardless of the ability of governmental authorities to adapt.


[1] http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/societe/2016/01/04/001-ministre-poeti-uber-legiferer-nouvel-an.shtml

[2] http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/montreal/2015/11/05/006-montreal-saisie-vehicules-uber-taxis.shtml

[3] http://fr.canoe.ca/argent/depenser/auquotidien/archives/2016/01/20160102-163443.html

[4] http://business.financialpost.com/news/transportation/aviva-canada-says-ride-sharing-insurance-coming-in-february

[5] c. S-6.01.